M. Scott Carpenter, a college dropout and local ne’er-do-well who became the second American to orbit Earth, wasn’t proud of the way his teen years took off.
“The local papers that say I was just a normal boy are trying to think of something not bad to say,” he told Life magazine in May 1962, a few days before his historic flight in the Aurora 7 space capsule that made him the second American to orbit Earth. “I didn’t study hard and I quit high school football because I couldn’t devote myself to learning the plays. I stole things from stores and I was just drifting through, sort of a no-good.”
After twice flunking out of the University of Colorado and getting into a serious accident driving home from a party, he had an epiphany in his hospital bed. He returned to college and studied hard. Three years later, he was a Navy pilot. A decade afterward, he was one of America’s seven original Project Mercury astronauts.
Briefly feared lost after orbiting Earth three times and plunging into the Atlantic far from his target, he returned to parades and plaudits.
Carpenter, who in 1965 made history again with his experiments in an undersea research capsule, died Thursday morning at a Denver hospice, said his wife, Patty Carpenter, after having a stroke about three weeks ago. He was 88.
His passing leaves John Glenn as the last surviving Mercury astronaut.