Walter Marty Schirra Jr.|
March 12, 1923
Hackensack, New Jersey, U.S.
May 3, 2007 (aged 84)|
La Jolla, California, U.S.
|Naval aviator, test pilot|
Newark College of Engineering|
USNA, B.S. 1945
Time in space
|12d 7h 12m|
|Selection||1959 NASA Group 1|
|Retirement||July 1, 1969|
Walter Marty "Wally" Schirra Jr. (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007), (Captain, USN), was an American naval aviator and astronaut. He was one of the original seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury, the first effort by the United States to put human beings in space. On October 3, 1962, he flew the six-orbit, nine-hour, Mercury-Atlas 8 mission, in a spacecraft he nicknamed Sigma 7, becoming the fifth American, and ninth human, to travel to space. In the two-man Gemini program, he achieved the first space rendezvous, station-keeping his Gemini 6A spacecraft within 1 foot (30 cm) of the sister Gemini 7 spacecraft in December 1965. In October 1968, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day low Earth orbit shakedown test of the three-man Apollo Command/Service Module. He was the first person to go into space three times, and the only person to have flown in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, logging a total of 295 hours and 15 minutes in space. After Apollo 7 he retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of captain and from NASA, becoming a consultant to CBS News for its coverage of the subsequent Apollo flights. He joined Walter Cronkite as co-anchor for the seven Moon landing missions.
Early life and educationEdit
Schirra was born on March 12, 1923, in Hackensack, New Jersey, to an aviation family. His paternal grandparents were from Bavaria and Switzerland, and originally of Sardinian ancestry (more specifically from the town of Ghilarza). Schirra's father, Walter M. Schirra Sr., who was born in Philadelphia, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War I, and flew bombing and reconnaissance missions over Germany. After the war he barnstormed at county fairs around New Jersey. Schirra's mother, Florence Shillito (née Leach) Schirra, went along on her husband's barnstorming tours and performed wing walking stunts.:9–11
Schirra grew up in Oradell, New Jersey, where he attended school, and was a First Class in Boy Scout Troop 36. Schirra graduated from Dwight Morrow High School in 1940, and enrolled in the Newark College of Engineering, where he was involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the Sigma Pi fraternity. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Schirra decided to apply to a service academy. Schirra's father encouraged him to apply to West Point, but he decided to enroll in the United States Naval Academy instead. Schirra graduated in 1945 after only three years instead of four, as the Naval Academy had a wartime accelerated curriculum.:10–13
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Schirra was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy in 1945. Schirra served during the final months of World War II aboard the large cruiser USS Alaska. Following the Japanese surrender, Schirra returned to America, where the USS Alaska was decommissioned. Schirra was stationed in Tsingtao, where he was assigned to the amphibious command ship USS Estes. Following his return from China, Schirra began training as a Naval Aviator at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.:16–20
After he completed training, Schirra received his wings in 1948 and joined Fighter Squadron 71 (VF-71) at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. In VF-71, Schirra flew the F8F Bearcat. After several years of flying the F8F, Schirra attended jet transition training with the F-80 Shooting Star in preparation for his squadron's transition to the jet-powered F9F Panther. Schirra was deployed to the Mediterranean aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway at the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, and volunteered for an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force to gain combat experience. Schirra was selected for the exchange, and trained to fly on the F-84 Thunderjet.:21–27
Schirra was initially deployed with the 154th Fighter-Bomber Squadron to Itazuke Air Force Base in Japan, from where he flew missions into South Korea. As U.S. troops advanced north, the squadron was reassigned to a base in Daegu. In the eight-month deployment, Schirra flew 90 combat missions and downed two MiG-15s.:29–32
After completing his tour in Korea, Schirra became a test pilot at Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, California (NOTS). At China Lake, he tested various weapons systems, including becoming the first pilot to fly with and fire the Sidewinder missile. Schirra was assigned to Miramar Naval Air Station to test the newest Navy jet fighter, the F7U Cutlass. Schirra was subsequently assigned to NAS Moffett to begin transition training to the Cutlass, and subsequently the F3H Demon. After a deployment to Asia aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and aviation safety training at the University of Southern California, Schirra was accepted to the United States Naval Test Pilot School in 1958.:33–43
Schirra was a member of class 20 at the Naval Test Pilot School, along with future fellow astronauts Jim Lovell and Pete Conrad, where he learned to fly numerous aircraft, including the F4D Skyray, the F11F Tiger, and the F8U Crusader. After graduation, Schirra was assigned as a test pilot at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Schirra learned to fly the F4H Phantom to determine if it could become a carrier-based aircraft.:43–46
In February 1959, Schirra was one of 110 military test pilots selected by their commanding officers as candidates for the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space flight program. Following several rounds of tests, Schirra was selected as one of the original seven American astronauts in April 1959.:46, 57–63 During the program's development, Schirra's areas of responsibility were the life-support systems and the pressurized flight suit. Additionally, Schirra worked alongside John Glenn in capsule design. Scott Carpenter and Schirra flew F-106 Delta Dart chase planes during Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 suborbital mission. Schirra was initially assigned as Deke Slayton's backup for the second orbital Mercury flight, but was replaced with Carpenter when Slayton was grounded, and was scheduled for the third orbital flight.:65, 75-76
At 7:15 am on October 3, 1962, Schirra lifted off aboard his Mercury flight, named Sigma 7. After a minor trajectory deviation early in flight, Sigma 7 achieved orbit. Once in orbit, Schirra demonstrated manually positioning and maneuvering his spacecraft using a reaction control system. After the navigation issues during Carpenter's Aurora 7 mission, NASA and Schirra focused on the engineering and human factors in manually operating the capsule. Schirra reported rising suit temperatures, reaching a high of 32°C, before he was able to manually adjust his suit's cooling system. After completing his spacecraft tests, Schirra tested his ability to blindly use controls in a zero-gravity environment. Throughout his mission, Schirra demonstrated the ability to act as a backup to automatic controls and manually fly the spacecraft. After six orbits, Schirra manually aligned his spacecraft over Africa and performed retrofire. Sigma 7 landed 8 km from the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge, in the central Pacific Ocean. Once Sigma 7 was on deck, Schirra activated the explosive hatch to egress the spacecraft, and received a large bruise, proving that Grissom had not intentionally opened his hatch on Liberty Bell 7. After Schirra returned to the US, he and his family were invited to the Oval Office at the White House to meet President Kennedy on October 16.:85–94
At the beginning of the Gemini program, Alan Shepard was assigned to command Gemini 3 with Tom Stafford as pilot, but they were replaced by a backup crew after Shepard was diagnosed with Ménière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear. Schirra and Stafford became the backup crew for the new Gemini 3 crew, Gus Grissom and John Young, and were subsequently scheduled for the Gemini 6 primary crew. Gemini 6 was originally scheduled to perform the first orbital docking with an Agena target vehicle. The Agena vehicle exploded shortly after takeoff on October 25, 1965, while Schirra and Stafford waited in their spacecraft to lift off. Program managers decided that rather than wait for a replacement Agena available, they would revise the mission, calling it Gemini 6A and having it attempt a rendezvous with Gemini 7, to be flown by astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell Jr. On December 4, 1965, Gemini 7 lifted off to begin its two-week mission. Gemini 6A prepared to launch on December 12, but its engines shut down less than two seconds after ignition. Despite protocols calling for the astronauts to eject from the spacecraft in the event of an engine shutdown, Schirra chose not to activate his and Stafford's rocket-powered ejection seats, saving them both from probable injuries and a further delay and possible cancellation of the mission. Gemini 6A lifted off on December 15, and successfully rendezvoused with Gemini 7 after five hours of flight. The two spacecraft maneuvered to within one foot of each other, and kept station for 5 hours. Following the rendezvous, Gemini 6A deorbited on December 16, and was recovered in the Atlantic ocean southeast of Cape Canaveral by the USS Wasp.:157–168:50–76,
While on the Gemini mission, Schirra played a Christmas practical joke on the flight controllers by first reporting a mock UFO (implying Santa Claus) sighting, then playing "Jingle Bells" on a four-hole Hohner harmonica he had smuggled on board, accompanied by Stafford on sleigh bells.:165
In mid-1966, Schirra was assigned to command a three-man Apollo crew with Donn F. Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham to make the second manned flight test of the Apollo Command/Service Module, with a mission profile identical to Apollo 1. Schirra argued against a repeat mission, and his crew became the backup crew for Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Schirra's crew conducted tests in the command module on January 26, 1967, and were enroute to Houston the next day when Grissom and his crew were killed in a fire during a test. Schirra's crew became the prime crew of the first manned flight. This became Apollo 7 in the program's revised mission numbering plan, and was delayed to the fall of 1968 while safety improvements were made to the Command Module.:180–193
Schirra gained a sense of security from having Guenter Wendt, a McDonnell Aircraft employee, as the pad leader responsible for the spacecraft's launch readiness. As the Apollo contractor was now North American Aviation, Wendt was no longer pad leader. After the Apollo 1 accident, Schirra felt so strongly he wanted none other than Wendt as pad leader for his Apollo flight, that he convinced Deke Slayton and North American's launch operations manager Bastian "Buzz" Hello to hire Wendt as Apollo 7 pad leader. Wendt remained pad leader for the remainder of the Apollo and Skylab programs, and stayed on with NASA into the Space Shuttle program before retiring.:195
Apollo 7 was launched on October 11, 1968, making Schirra the first person to fly in space three times. Prior to launch, Schirra had objected because of high winds, which could have injured the astronauts in the event of an abort within the first minute of the mission. After reaching orbit, the Apollo 7 CSM performed space rendezvous and docking exercises with the S-4B stage to simulate retrieving the Lunar Module. On the second day of the mission, the crew conducted the first live television pictures publicly broadcast from inside a manned spacecraft.:199–203[note 1]
During the mission, Schirra became sick with a head cold, which he passed to Eisele. Anticipating issues with congestion inside of a sealed spacesuit, Schirra proposed to Mission Control that they would not wear their helmets during reentry. Despite a request from Chris Kraft and Deke Slayton to wear helmets during reentry, Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham refused and performed reentry without them. Apollo 7 landed southeast of Bermuda on October 22, 1968.:206–209
Prior to the Apollo 7 launch, Schirra had made the decision to retire after the flight, and left the NASA Astronaut Corps on July 1, 1969. Schirra's last assignment as an astronaut was to conduct the investigation into Neil Armstrong's Lunar Landing Research Vehicle crash, which he attributed to a mechanical failure and recommended suspending training with the vehicle.:208,211,216
A combination of pseudoephedrine decongestant with triprolidine antihistamine was the cold medicine carried on board the Apollo missions and prescribed by the flight surgeon. Years later when this became available over the counter as Actifed, the makers of Actifed hired Schirra as a television commercial spokesman, based on the notoriety of his Apollo 7 in-space head cold.:207
During later Apollo missions, he served as a consultant to CBS News from 1969 to 1975. He Joined Walter Cronkite to co-anchor the network's coverage of the seven Moon landing missions, starting with Apollo 11 (joined by Arthur C. Clarke) and including the ill-fated Apollo 13.:221–223
Following his NASA career, Schirra became a president and a director of Regency Investors Incorporated, a major financial complex and worldwide leasing company based in Denver, Colorado. He left Regency Investors to form Environmental Control Company (ECCO), which he was chairman and chief executive officer from 1970 to 1973. The company merged with SERNCO Incorporated in 1973. Schirra started as vice-chairman, but was elected to chairman of the board later that year. Schirra worked to develop an Alaskan oil pipeline. In 1975, he became a director at Johns-Manville Corporation in Denver, Colorado until he resigned in 1978.:218–221
In January 1979, Schirra formed his own firm, Schirra Enterprises, and he worked as a consultant until 1980. Schirra was elected to the Board of Directors of Electromedics Incorporated, Kimberly-Clark, Finalco and Net Air International. He has also served as president of Prometheus, an energy development company in Colorado. In 1984, he and the other surviving Mercury astronauts and Gus Grissom's widow, Betty Grissom, founded the Mercury Seven Foundation to raise money for scholarships for science and engineering students in college. In 1995, the organization was renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Schirra, along with the rest of the Mercury Seven, co-authored the 1962 book We Seven, detailing the training and development of the Mercury program. Along with Richard N. Billings, Schirra released his autobiography Schirra's Space in 1988. In 1995 he co-authored the book Wildcats to Tomcats: The Tailhook Navy with Barrett Tillman and fellow Navy Captains Richard L. (Zeke) Cormier, and Phil Wood. It describes five decades of Naval aviation, including accounts of combat tours in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. In 2005 he co-authored the book The Real Space Cowboys with Ed Buckbee. The book is an account of the 'Mercury Seven' astronauts. It follows them through the process of selection for the program, their entire careers, and into retirement. Schirra was also a contributor to the 2007 book, In the Shadow of the Moon, which was his final authored work.
Shortly after commissioning, Schirra began dating Josephine Cook "Jo" Fraser (1924–2015), of Seattle, Washington, the step-daughter of Admiral James L. Holloway Jr. Schirra and Fraser were married on February 23, 1946.:15 They had two children, Walter M. Schirra III, (b. June 23, 1950), and Suzanne (b. September 29, 1957). Jo Schirra died April 27, 2015 at the age of 91.
Schirra died on May 3, 2007, of a heart attack while undergoing treatment for abdominal cancer at Scripps Green Hospital (currently The Heart Center at Scripps) in La Jolla, California. He was 84 years old. A memorial service for Schirra was held on May 22 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in California. The ceremony concluded with a three-volley salute and a flyover by three F/A-18s. Schirra was cremated and his ashes were committed to the sea on February 11, 2008. The burial at sea ceremony was held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and his ashes were released by Commander Lee Axtell, CHC, USN, the command chaplain aboard.
Awards and honorsEdit
Throughout his military career, Schirra received numerous military decorations, including three Air Medals and three NASA Distinguished Service Medals, including one posthumously. He was also awarded with the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Medal with "ASIA" clasp, the China Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal. Additionally, he received several international awards, including a Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Korea Medal, and the Korean War Service Medal. Schirra has also received civilian aviation awards, the AIAA Award (1963), the Harmon Trophy (1965), the Kitty Hawk Award, and the Golden Key Award.
When Schirra was awarded his Navy Astronaut Wings by Secretary Fred Korth, the Navy's uniform guidance did not specify if it would be worn alongside his naval aviator wings, or replace them. Schirra decided to wear his astronaut wings above his ribbons, and the aviator wings below them. Schirra was awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for being the commander of Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission. He was also awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for escorting B-29 bombers during the Korean War, a gold star for his Sigma 7 flight, and a second gold star for flying on Gemini 6. Schirra, a fellow of Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP), received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award from the society in 1963, along with the other six Mercury astronauts. He was awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 1962, along with the rest of the Mercury 7. The award was typically given to engineers and inventors, but aviators were awarded this time instead.
Schirra was a fellow in the American Astronautical Society; a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and American Fighter Pilots Association; a 33rd Degree Mason; director of the Rocky Mountain Airways; on the Department of the Interior Advisory Board on National Parks, Historical Sites and Monuments; a member of the Honorary Belgian Consul of Colorado; and Director of Electromedics, Colorado, and Watt County, Nashville, Tennessee. Schirra received an Honorary Doctorate of Astronautical Engineering from Lafayette College, an Honorary Doctorate of Astronautics from the Newark College of Engineering, and an Honorary D.Sc. from the University of Southern California. Schirra was inducted into multiple hall of fames: the International Space Hall of Fame (1981), the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1986), the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame (1990), and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. The USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE-8), a Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship named for Schirra, was christened and launched March 8, 2009. A street and a park are named after Schirra in Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania, and Oradell, New Jersey. Walter M. Schirra Elementary School in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey, is named after Schirra.
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- Wally Schirra & Richard N. Billings, "Schirra's Space", 1988 ISBN 1-55750-792-9
- Wally Schirra, Richard L. Cormier, and Phillip R. Wood with Barrett Tillman, Wildcats to Tomcats, Phalanx, 1995. ISBN 1-883809-07-X
- Robert Godwin, Ed. "Sigma 7: The NASA Mission Reports", 2003 ISBN 1-894959-01-9
- Robert Godwin, Ed. "Gemini 6: The NASA Mission Reports", 2000 ISBN 1-896522-61-0
- Robert Godwin, Ed. "Apollo 7: The NASA Mission Reports", 2000 ISBN 1-896522-64-5
- Ed Buckbee with Wally Schirra, "The Real Space Cowboys", 2005 ISBN 1-894959-21-3