M. Scott Carpenter was America's fourth man in space, his 1962 three-orbit mission in a tiny Mercury capsule closely paralleling that of John Glenn's previous mission. But that's where the similarities end: a malfunctioning navigational system caused Carpenter to splash down, dangerously, some 250 miles off-target, and Glenn's fame would somehow forever eclipse that of all seven of his fellow original astronauts combined. This memoir, penned in conjunction with Carpenter's daughter Kris, oddly distances itself from Carpenter's life through use of a third-person narrative (only the astronaut's calm account of his perilous mission is delivered directly in his voice), a device that ultimately echoes the more personal distances Carpenter endured in his own fateful, if troubled, journey toward the stars.
While Carpenter may have been able to trace his lineage back to the Plymouth colony of the 1630s, his immediate family seemed shattered. His research-chemist father was successful but absent, his mother often a bedridden invalid. Carpenter's journey to the Mercury program after a Rocky Mountain childhood and a stint on lumbering Naval patrol planes is one of the more unlikely of the original astronaut class, and he offers up his own perspectives on what has become a compelling body of American folklore (thanks largely to Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and the memoirs of other participants). While the account of NASA's infancy seems quaint, its officialdom often comes off as nothing short of cutthroat, perhaps inspiring the pioneering spaceman to the book's final adventures exploring a distinctly different frontier--the bottom of the ocean--as part of the Navy's endurance-minded SeaLab program. --Jerry McCulley
From Publishers Weekly
Amid a flurry of recent accounts of the early days of the U.S. space program, astronaut Carpenter and Stoever, his daughter, weigh in with a biography (most of it written jarringly in the third person) of the fourth American in space. While a good deal of factual information about Carpenter's life is presented, there is very little probing beneath the surface. Perhaps the most controversial material is Carpenter's discussion of the specifics of his three-orbit flight on May 24, 1962, which ended with the American public not knowing for hours whether Carpenter and his Mercury capsule Aurora 7 had survived re-entry. His take is very different from that offered last year by Chris Kraft (Flight: My Life in Mission Control). While the former mission controller claims that Carpenter "malfunctioned," Carpenter argues that he fulfilled his tasks admirably despite a series of mechanical failures on board the capsule. The third person voice is lively if not compelling, and though there is not very much new information about the early days of NASA here, one can get a flavor of the times and a sense of the people responsible for bringing America into the space age. Pictures not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.