Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper Jr. (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004; Col, USAF) was an American aerospace engineer, test pilot, United States Air Force pilot, and the youngest of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury, the first manned space program of the United States.
Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr.|
March 6, 1927
Shawnee, Oklahoma, U.S.
October 4, 2004 (aged 77)|
Ventura, California, U.S.
University of Hawaii|
University of Maryland
AFIT, B.S. 1956
Time in space
|9d 09h 14m|
|Selection||1959 NASA Group 1|
|Missions||Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith 7), Gemini 5|
|Retirement||July 31, 1970|
Cooper piloted the longest and final Mercury spaceflight in 1963. He was the first American to sleep in space during that 34-hour mission and was the last American to be launched alone to conduct an entirely solo orbital mission. In 1965, Cooper flew as Command Pilot of Gemini 5.
Early life and educationEdit
Cooper was born on March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, to parents Leroy Gordon Cooper Sr. (Colonel, USAF, Ret.) and Hattie Lee (née Herd) Cooper. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America where he achieved its second highest rank, Life Scout. Cooper attended Jefferson Elementary School and Shawnee High School in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and was involved in American football and track. He moved to Murray, Kentucky, about two months before graduating with his class in 1945 when his father, Leroy Cooper Sr., a World War I veteran, was called back into service. He graduated from Murray High School in 1945.
After he learned that the Army and Navy flying schools were not taking any candidates the year he graduated from high school, he decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. Cooper left for MCRD Parris Island as soon as he graduated. However, World War II had ended before he could get into combat. He was assigned then to the Naval Academy Preparatory School and was an alternate for an appointment to Annapolis, Maryland. The man who was the primary appointee made the grade so Cooper was reassigned in the Marines on guard duty in Washington, D.C. He was serving with the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington when he was released from duty along with other Marine reservists.
Following his honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, he went to Hawaii to live with his parents. His father was assigned to Hickam Field at the time. He started attending the University of Hawaii, and there he met his first wife, the former Trudy B. Olson of Seattle, Washington. She was quite active in flying, the only Mercury wife to have a pilot's license. They were married on August 29, 1947 in Honolulu when Gordon was 20. They continued to live there for two more years while he continued his university studies.
Cooper was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in June 1949, but transferred his commission to the United States Air Force in September 1949. He was placed on active duty and received flight training at Perrin Air Force Base, Texas and Williams AFB, Arizona.
Cooper's first flight assignment came in 1950 at Landstuhl Air Base, West Germany, where he flew F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres for four years. He later became flight commander of the 525th Fighter Bomber Squadron. While in Germany, he also attended the European Extension of the University of Maryland. Returning to the United States in 1954, he studied for two years at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology in Ohio, and in 1956 completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering at the institution. Cooper was then assigned to the USAF Experimental Flight Test School (Class 56D) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and after graduation was posted to the Flight Test Engineering Division at Edwards, where he served as a test pilot and project manager testing the F-102A and F-106B. He corrected several deficiencies in the F-106, saving the U.S. Air Force a great deal of money.
While at Edwards, Cooper was intrigued to read an announcement saying that a contract had been awarded to McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri, to build a space capsule. Shortly after this he was called to Washington, D.C., for a NASA briefing on Project Mercury and the part astronauts would play in it. Cooper went through the selection process with the other 109 pilots and was not surprised when he was accepted as the youngest of the first seven American astronauts.
Each of the Mercury astronauts was assigned to a different portion of the project along with other special assignments. Cooper specialized in the Redstone rocket (and developed a personal survival knife, the Model 17 "Astro" from Randall Made Knives, for astronauts to carry). He also chaired the Emergency Egress Committee, responsible for working out emergency launch pad procedures for escape. Cooper served as capsule communicator (CAPCOM) for Alan Shepard's first sub-orbital spaceflight in Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) and Scott Carpenter's flight on Mercury-Atlas 7 (Aurora 7). He was backup pilot for Wally Schirra in Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7).
Cooper was launched into space on May 15, 1963, aboard the Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith 7) spacecraft, the last Mercury mission. He orbited the Earth 22 times and logged more time in space than all five previous Mercury astronauts combined—34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds—traveling 546,167 miles (878,971 km) at 17,547 mph (28,239 km/h), pulling a maximum of 7.6 g (74.48 m/s²). Cooper achieved an altitude of 165.9 statute miles (267 km) at apogee. He was the first American astronaut to sleep not only in orbit but on the launch pad during a countdown.
"Spam in a can"Edit
Like all Mercury flights, Faith 7 was designed for fully automatic control, a controversial engineering decision which in many ways reduced the role of an astronaut to that of a passenger, and prompted Chuck Yeager to describe Mercury astronauts as "Spam in a can".
Toward the end of the Faith 7 flight there were mission-threatening technical problems. During the 19th orbit, the capsule had a power failure. Carbon dioxide levels began rising, and the cabin temperature jumped to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C). Cooper turned to his understanding of star patterns, took manual control of the tiny capsule and successfully estimated the correct pitch for re-entry into the atmosphere. Some precision was needed in the calculation; small errors in timing or orientation produce large errors in the landing point. Cooper drew lines on the capsule window to help him check his orientation before firing the re-entry rockets. "So I used my wrist watch for time," he later recalled, "my eyeballs out the window for attitude. Then I fired my retrorockets at the right time and landed right by the carrier." Cooper's cool-headed performance and piloting skills led to a basic rethinking of design philosophy for later space missions.
Two years later (August 21, 1965), Cooper flew as Command Pilot of Gemini 5 on an eight-day, 120-orbit mission with Pete Conrad. The two astronauts established a new space endurance record by traveling a distance of 3,312,993 miles (5,331,745 km) in 190 hours and 56 minutes, showing that astronauts could survive in space for the length of time necessary to go from the Earth to the Moon and back. Cooper was the first astronaut to make a second orbital flight and later served as backup Command Pilot for Gemini 12.
Gemini 5 was the first mission to have an insignia patch. The custom of having the astronauts name their spacecraft was discontinued by NASA after Gemini 3. Cooper, having realized he had never been in a military organization without one, suggested a mission patch to symbolize the Gemini 5 flight: an embroidered cloth patch sporting the names of the two crew members, a covered wagon, and the slogan "8 Days or Bust" which referred to the expected mission duration. NASA administrator James E. Webb approved the design, but insisted on the removal of the slogan from the official version of the patch, feeling it placed too much emphasis on the mission length and not the experiments, and fearing the public might see the mission as a failure if it did not last the full duration. The patches got the generic name of "Cooper patch." The so-called Cooper patch was worn on the right breast of the astronauts' uniforms below their nameplates and opposite the NASA emblems worn on the left. Cooper was subsequently backup commander of Gemini 12.
Cooper was selected as backup Commander for the May 1969 Apollo 10 mission. He hoped this placed him in position as Commander of Apollo 13, according to the usual crew rotation procedure established by the Flight Crew Operations Director, grounded Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton. However, when Alan Shepard (who served as Slayton's deputy after being grounded in 1963) was returned to flight status in May 1969, Slayton replaced Cooper with Shepard as Commander of this crew, which was then reassigned to Apollo 14 in order to give Shepard more time to train. Loss of this command placed Cooper farther down the flight rotation, meaning he would not fly until one of the later flights, if ever.
Retirement from astronaut corpsEdit
Dismayed by his stalled career, Cooper retired from NASA and the Air Force on July 31, 1970, at the rank of Colonel, having flown 222 hours in space. In his memoir, Leap of Faith (pp. 176–183), Cooper charged that Shepard and Slayton had taken unfair advantage of their control of the Apollo crew rotation by giving him consecutive backup assignments to promote their own chances of flying.
However, Cooper had developed a lax attitude towards training during the Gemini program; for the Gemini 5 mission, other astronauts had to coax him into the simulator. In 1969, he entered the 24 Hours of Daytona road race while training for Apollo 10. Slayton felt this placed him in too much danger and canceled his entry.
Slayton later asserted that he never intended to rotate Cooper to another mission, and assigned him to the Apollo 10 backup crew simply because of a lack of qualified astronauts with command experience at the time the assignment needed to be made. Cooper, Slayton noted, had a very small chance of receiving the Apollo 13 command if he did an outstanding job with the assignment, which he did not.
Cooper received an Honorary D.Sc. from Oklahoma State University in 1967. His autobiography, Leap of Faith, co-authored by Bruce Henderson, recounted his experiences with the Air Force and NASA, along with his efforts to expose an alleged UFO conspiracy theory. Cooper was also a major contributor to the book In the Shadow of the Moon (published after his death), which offered Cooper's final published thoughts on his life and career.
After leaving NASA, Cooper served on several corporate boards and as technical consultant for more than a dozen companies in fields ranging from high performance boat design to energy, construction, and aircraft design.
Between 1962–1967, he was president of Performance Unlimited, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of race and Marine engines, and fiberglass boats. In addition, he was also president of GCR, which designed, tested and raced championship cars, conducted tire tests for race cars and worked on installation of turbine engine on cars. Among the companies he served in the board of Teletest on the design and installaton of advanced telemetry systems, Doubloon, which designed and built treasure hunting equipment and Cosmos, on archeology exploration projects.
Cooper was also part owner and race project manager of the Profile Race Team from 1968 to 1970, designing and racing high performance boats. Between 1968–1974 he served as a technical consultant Republic Corp, consultant for design and construction of various automotive production items for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler Motor Companies, and technical consultant for developing technical products and public relations in land development projects for Canaveral International, Inc. Cooper also served on the board of directors for APECO, Campcom LowCom, and Crafttech.
Establishing his own consulting firm, he was President of the consulting firm Gordon Cooper & Associates, Inc. Specializing in technical projects ranging from airline and aerospace fields to land and hotel development.
Cooper's hobbies included treasure hunting, archaeology, racing, flying, skiing, boating, hunting, and fishing.
Cooper married his first wife Trudy B. Olson (1927–1994) in 1947. She was a Seattle native and flight instructor where he was training. Together, they had two daughters: Camala Keoki, born 1948; and Janita Lee (1950–2007). The couple divorced in 1971.
Cooper married Suzan Taylor in 1972. Together, they had two daughters: Colleen Taylor, born in 1979; and Elizabeth Jo, born in 1980. The couple remained married until his death in 2004.
Cooper developed Parkinson's disease and died at age 77 from heart failure at his home in Ventura, California, on October 4, 2004. His death occurred on the 47th anniversary of the Sputnik 1 launch and the same day that SpaceShipOne made its second official qualifying flight.
In 1957, when Cooper was 30 and a Captain, he was assigned to Fighter Section of the Experimental Flight Test Engineering Division at Edwards AFB in California. He acted as a test pilot and project manager. On May 3 of that year, he had a crew setting up an Askania Cinetheodolite precision landing system on a dry lake bed. This cinetheodolite system would take pictures at one frame per second as an aircraft landed. The crew consisted of James Bittick and Jack Gettys who began work at the site just before 08:00, using both still and motion picture cameras. According to his accounts, later that morning they returned to report to Cooper that they saw a "strange-looking, saucer-like" aircraft that did not make a sound either on landing or take-off.
According to his accounts, Cooper realized that these men, who on a regular basis have seen experimental aircraft flying and landing around them as part of their job of filming those aircraft, were clearly worked up and unnerved. They explained how the saucer hovered over them, landed 50 yards away from them using three extended landing gears and then took off as they approached for a closer look. They took photographs and film. There was a special Pentagon number to call to report such incidents: he called and soon was reported up the chain of command until he was instructed by a general to have the film developed, but to make no prints of it, and send it right away in a locked courier pouch. As he had not been instructed to not look at the negatives before sending them, he did. He said the quality of the photography was excellent as would be expected from the experienced photographers who took them. What he saw was exactly what they had described to him. He did not see the film before everything was sent away. He expected that there would be a follow up investigation since an aircraft of unknown origin had landed in a highly classified military installation, but nothing was ever said of the incident again. He was never able to track down what happened to those photos. He assumed that they ended up going to the Air Force's official UFO investigation, Project Blue Book, which was based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
He held claim until his death that the U.S. government was indeed covering up information about UFOs. He pointed out that there were hundreds of reports made by his fellow pilots, many coming from military jet pilots sent to respond to radar or visual sightings from the ground. In his memoirs, Cooper wrote he had seen other unexplained aircraft several times during his career, and also said hundreds of similar reports had been made. He further claimed these sightings had been "swept under the rug" by the U.S. government. In 1978 he also testified before the UN on the topic. Throughout his later life Cooper expressed repeatedly in interviews he had seen UFOs and described his recollections for the documentary Out of the Blue.
On April 29, 2007, a portion of Cooper's ashes (along with those of Star Trek actor James Doohan and 206 others) was launched from New Mexico on a sub-orbital memorial flight by a privately owned UP Aerospace SpaceLoft XL sounding rocket. Although the capsule carrying the ashes fell back toward Earth as planned, it was lost in mountainous landscape. The search was thwarted by bad weather but after a few weeks the capsule was found and the ashes it carried were returned to the families. The ashes were then launched on the Explorers orbital mission (August 3, 2008) but were lost when the Falcon 1 rocket failed two minutes into the flight.
On May 22, 2012, another portion of Cooper's ashes was among those of 308 people included on the SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 2 that was bound for the International Space Station. This flight, using the "Falcon" launch vehicle and the "Dragon" capsule, was unmanned. The second stage and the burial canister remained in the initial orbit Dragon C2+ was inserted to, and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere a month later.
Cooper was a member of several groups and societies including the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Astronautical Society, Scottish Rite and York Rite Masons, Shriners, the Royal Order of Jesters, the Rotary Club, Order of Daedalians, Confederate Air Force, Adventurers' Club of Los Angeles, and Boy Scouts of America.
Awards and honorsEdit
Cooper received many other awards including the Collier Trophy, the Harmon Trophy, the DeMolay Legion of Honor, the John F. Kennedy Trophy, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award, the Air Force Association Trophy, the John J. Montgomery Award, the General Thomas D. White Trophy, the University of Hawaii Regents Medal, the Columbus Medal, and the Silver Antelope Award. He was a Master Mason (member of Carbondale Lodge # 82 in Carbondale, Colorado), and was given the honorary 33rd Degree by the Scottish Rite Masonic body.
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Cooper's accomplishments (along with his widely noted and appealing personality) were depicted in the 1983 film The Right Stuff in which he was portrayed by actor Dennis Quaid. Cooper worked closely with the production company on this project and reportedly, every line uttered by Quaid is attributable to Cooper's recollection. Quaid met with Cooper before the casting call and rapidly learned his mannerisms. Quaid also had his hair cut and dyed to match how the former astronaut's hair looked during the 1950s and 1960s. Cooper was later depicted in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, in which his character was played by Robert C. Treveiler. Cooper appeared as himself in an episode of the television series CHiPs and during the early 1980s made regular call-in appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. The Thunderbirds character Gordon Tracy was named after him.
In the 2015 ABC TV series The Astronaut Wives Club, he is portrayed by Bret Harrison. That same year, he was portrayed by Colin Hanks in the Season 3 episode "Oklahoma" of Drunk History. Laura Steinel retells the story of his Mercury-Atlas 9 flight.
While he was in space, Cooper recorded dark spots he noticed in the waters of the Caribbean. He believed these anomalies may be the locations of shipwrecks. The 2017 Discovery Channel docu-series Cooper's Treasure follows Cooper's friend Darrell Miklos as he searches through Cooper's files to discover the location of the suspected shipwrecks.
References and notesEdit
- "Scouting and Space Exploration". scouting.org. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
- Gray, Tara. "L. Gordon Cooper Jr". 40th Anniversary of Mercury 7. NASA. Retrieved July 10, 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr. at Veteran Tributes
- "Gordon Cooper NASA Biography". NASA JSC. Retrieved May 7, 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Bond, Peter (18 November 2004). "Col Gordon Cooper". Independent. London. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
- Wolfe, Tom, The Right Stuff 1979 ISBN 978-0-312-42756-6
- space.com, Gordon Cooper Touts New Book Leap of Faith Archived 2010-07-27 at the Wayback Machine., 30 July 2000, retrieved 20 January 2008
- Wagener, Leon, One Giant Leap, Forge Books, 2004 ISBN 978-0-312-87343-1
- "'8 Days or Bust' +50 years: Gemini 5 made history with first crew mission patch". collectspace. August 24, 2015.
- French, Francis; Colin Burgess (2007). In the Shadow of the Moon. University of Nebraska Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-8032-1128-5.
- Cooper, Gordon; Bruce Henderson (2002). Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey into the Unknown. HarperTorch. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-06-109877-2.
- Shayler, David (2002). Apollo: The Lost and Forgotten Missions. p. 281. ISBN 1-85233-575-0.
- Chaikin, Andrew (2007). A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Foreword by Tom Hanks. New York: Penguin Books. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-14-311235-8.
- Slayton, Donald K. "Deke"; Cassutt, Michael (1994). Deke! U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle (1st ed.). New York: Forge. p. 236. ISBN 0-312-85503-6.
- Gordon Cooper; Bruce Henderson (2000). Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey Into the Unknown. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060194162.
- Francis French; Colin Burgess (2007). In The Shadow of the Moon: A Challenging Journey to Tranquility. ISBN 0803209843.
- "International Space Hall of Fame :: New Mexico Museum of Space History :: Inductee Profile". nmspacemuseum.org.
- "articles about Galaxy Group in LAtimes".
- "Nashua Telegraph from Nashua, New Hampshire · Page 2". Newspapers.com.
- "Genealogy references sorted by name". sortedbyname.com.
- "Obituaries: Janita Lee 'Jan' Cooper". Trinity Standard. 2007. Retrieved June 24, 2015.
- Wald, Matthew L. (October 5, 2004). "Gordon Cooper, Astronaut, Is Dead at 77". New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2015.
- Martin, Robert Scott, Gordon Cooper: No Mercury UFO, space.com, 10 September 1999, retrieved 20 January 2008
- uk.reuters.com, Ashes of "Star Trek's" Scotty found after space ride, 18 May 2007, retrieved 20 January 2008
- Sherriff, Lucy, Scotty: ashes located and heading home, 22 May 2007, retrieved 20 January 2008
- "SpaceX Falcon I fails during first stage flight". nasaspaceflight.com.
- "Pioneering astronaut's ashes ride into orbit with trailblazing private spacecraft". collectspace.com. May 22, 2012.
- "FALCON 9 R/B - Satellite Information". heavens-above.
- "L. Gordon Cooper Jr. - Astronaut Scholarship Foundation". astronautscholarship.org.
- "From the Earth to the Moon, Full Cast and Crew". IMDb. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
- "About Cooper's Treasure". discovery.com. Retrieved 2017-04-29.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gordon Cooper.|
- Cooper Comments
- Cooper's official NASA short biography
- About Gordon Cooper
- Astronautix biography of L. Gordon Cooper Jr.
- Spacefacts biography of L. Gordon Cooper Jr.
- Cooper at Encyclopedia of Science
- Cooper at Spaceacts
- Remembering 'Gordo' – NASA memories of Gordon Cooper
- Interview with Cooper about UFOs and aliens (with much added speculation)
- Gordon Cooper on IMDb
- Gordon "Gordo" Cooper Jr at Find a Grave