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For Spacious Skies: The Uncommon Journey of a Mercury Astronaut Hardcover – 2002
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Carpenter's book is footnoted throughout, and the authors have made many references to other credible manuscripts to support their recollections of the time. Personal recollections from Gene Kranz are referenced at least once, and both John Glenn and Wally Schirra proofread the manuscript prior to publication.
Scott Carpenter's life has been overall, a great experience tinged with personal losses. His parents lived apart, his mother suffered from t.b., his father's approval always needed to be earned. Marriage's have brought the promise of secure relationships, but have not lasted over time. One senses the deepest loss in his relationship with Rene, who documented much of his personal history and the contemporary truths of the Mercury years. The overall sense is that two sharply intellectual adults somehow outgrew each other, when they still complimented the other so well. Rene's journals, it is revealed, provided Tom Wolfe with a great deal of his impressions for "The Right Stuff", some of which was re-written as "the wrong stuff" according to Carpenter and Stoever.
Of course, the real meat of the book is Scott's recollection of the mission of "Aurora 7", and the keen disappointment in having to displace Deke Slayton in what should have been his moment of glory. How does one enjoy his own great moment in the gloomy pallor of a friend's defeat? Nobody liked what happened to Deke, nobody, including Scott and back up pilot Schirra, liked the reassignments. Management was blindsided by John Glenn's super-celebrity power, fresh and wieldy. Scott Carpenter was thrust into a crammed flight plan, a management team which was waiting to pounce upon any perceived "screw ups", and a spacecraft with serious mechanical flaws, which began to appear at launch. Did Scott Carpenter "malfunction", as Chris Kraft contends in an entire chapter of his own book? Scott readily admits trying to squeeze every science minute he could from the flight, and making that his priority. Voice recordings and bio-med data show that the pilot was aware of the situation he was in during re-entry. The fact that he brought his spacecraft back intact is cited as evidence of a pilot in control. Kraft gets his well-earned respect too, but the feisty nature of the flight controller is referred to again and again. And while Carpenter did not fly again, the choice appears to have been his own, and not one imposed upon him. Readers will have to divine that truth for themselves. Overall the authors have attempted to remain measured, objective, and fair in dealing with Carpenter's contemporaries.
"For Spacious Skies" is imperative reading for space historians. It is candid, tells much about the elite group of men and women who found themselves cultivated by the Kennedy White House, and thrust into the glory years of space flight. The extra effort in backing up statements with other records and recollections sets this book apart from similar astronaut biographies.
I really got emotional charged in the first parts of the book seeing Scott (nicknamed Buddy) neglected by his low life father. I wanted to reach through the book and punch Dr. Carpenter in the face and say wake up and love your son and sick wife Toye. They love and need you. Luckily Buddy had a loving mother who was his hero and loving grandparents. Buddy's father was a bum who for years was late or missed writing Scott and his sick ailing mother. Many times he sent them no money. Poor Buddy desperately wanted love and approval with the important things in his life from his father. His father leaves his 2 year old son and very sick wife Tory in Colorado with his parents so he can go off and try to make money and have a career in NYC after getting his PHD in perfume/smell science. The one that stunk was Scott's low life father. He divorces TB sickened Toye and runs off with another woman. Shortly before Scott's spaceflight he makes peace with his son.
Scott goes to college and then gets in the Navy as a fight cadet and eventually becomes a pilot and officer. Scott deliberately chose to fly larger multi engine planes rather than fighters so he could be home with his wife Rene and children more. He becomes very good in navigation because of his flying. He does well and gets transferred to PAX the Navy's test flight facility and becomes a test pilot.
He flies many high speed jets and is selected to NASA as one of the original Mercury 7. Commander Scott only gets one flight on Aurora 7 and has problems in flight and lands 250 miles down range. I'm glad I got to learn from Scott what went wrong in the flight. Chris Kraft the Flight director had issues with Scott and thought much of the problems with Scott's flight was Scott's fault. Ill read Chris Kraft's book Flight to get the other side of the story. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Aurora 7 flight was a success and much space science was learned.
I really wanted more information on the Sea Labs saturation deep sea diving Scott participated in. I'll try to buy another book for more information.
Scott marries his sweetheart Rene and she is a great wife and supports his flying and tuff Navy life and helps raise a fine family. Later Scott marries a few other times and has more children but not much is mentioned of the other wives and children.
His daughter Kris wrote a good book but there is some unnecessary profanity to make it more macho. The book was good enough to not need it. Scott Carpenter a true hero that accomplished so much in the navy, space and deep sea exploration. He accomplished so much in life even though he had a broken family with no father around. Enjoyed the book and recommend it.
As a then young American I can remember that none of us cared much about the reasons for the 200 plus mile overshoot of his intended landing point and were thrilled by his flight and what we perceived as his successful mission. The overshoot was a consequence of physics, timing, orbital mechanics and an overloaded mission plan. Let Mr. Kraft worry about the small details.