As audiences flock to see “Gravity,” it is a reminder of the eternal wonders of space travel and the longing that deeper mysteries may be answered from the other side of the Earth’s atmosphere. The news Thursday of the death of Scott Carpenter, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts and the second American to orbit the Earth, perhaps brought such flights of interstellar fancy crashing back to a too-human reality. Carpenter was 88.
When John Glenn was launched into space for the first orbital mission, it was Carpenter who was heard saying, “Godspeed, John Glenn.” The recording was used in a trailer for the 2009 J.J. Abrams-directed version of “Star Trek.” With Carpenter’s passing, Glenn is now the only member of the original seven American astronauts still living.
The saga of the Mercury 7 was famously depicted in the 1979 book “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe and then the 1983 movie of the same name directed by Philip Kaufman. Carpenter was portrayed in the film by actor Charles Frank.
“The Right Stuff” was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture, and won four. Critics embraced the film, which starred Sam Shepard, Ed Harris and Dennis Quaid among others, but it was never a huge hit with audiences.
Later, Carpenter was credited as “underwater consultant” on the 1983 James Bond picture “Never Say Never Again” and also appeared on a 1985 episode of “The Fall Guy” titled “High Orbit.”
On his personal website, Carpenter answered the question “What do you think of ‘The Right Stuff’” by responding:
“Part of my affection for the book comes from my great affection for Tom Wolfe. But trying to put that aside, I believe the book itself accurately depicts in all its essential details Project Mercury. Tom takes literary license with nonessential details. It’s a fine book and made a fine movie, but the movie took even more license with nonessential details than Wolfe took in the book. My opinion of the book and movie is not widely shared by the rest of the Mercury guys. I liked the movie. But I wasn’t portrayed in much detail and the Carpenter character you saw didn’t invite controversy.”
The trailer for ‘The Right Stuff” is below:
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