VENTURA, California (AP) — Gordon Cooper, who as one of the original Mercury astronauts was a pioneer in human space exploration, has died. He was 77.
Cooper died Monday at his home in Ventura, NASA officials said in a statement.
Cooper piloted the final flight of the Mercury program, the United States’ first manned spaceflight program that had the primary goal of putting a man in orbit around Earth.
Born March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Cooper was selected as a Mercury astronaut in April 1959. The astronauts became heroes in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Cooper’s cocksure attitude was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” and the 1983 movie of the same name.
Cooper gave his signature line during a 1995 reunion of surviving Mercury astronauts. When asked who was the greatest fighter pilot he ever saw, Cooper enthusiastically answered, “You’re looking at him!”
On May 15, 1963, Cooper piloted the “Faith 7” spacecraft on a 22-orbit mission that concluded the operational phase of the Project Mercury. He flew for 34 hours and 20 minutes.
The Right Stuff portrayed him as a brash and overly self-assurred pilot, competing to be, and becoming, the fastest man alive, as part of the Mercury Seven. This is where I come in.
I have been told that I came this close to having a first name of Cooper, because, a) Astronaut Gordon Cooper was circling the earth the day after I was born, and b) Cooper was a family name on dad’s side. Cooler heads prevailed, and I was given the simple, easily-misspelled name I carry today.
He died on the day the Ansari X-prize was won. But, the best epitaph is from the semi-biographical movie, The Right Sutff:
On that glorious day in May 1963
Gordo Cooper went higher, farther, and faster than any other American:
22 complete orbits around the world.
He was the last American ever to go into space alone
and for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became
the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen.