Scott Carpenter Biography

Original Mercury 7 Astronaut

M. Scott Carpenter - Original Mercury 7 Astronaut
M. Scott Carpenter - Original Mercury 7 Astronaut. NASA

There's no doubt about it — the earliest astronauts were almost larger-than-life characters. Some of this perception comes from such movies as "The Right Stuff", but these men did come along at a time when science and space exploration were the hot new thing. Among these astronauts was Scott Carpenter, a very quiet and intelligent man who served as one of the original Project Mercury astronauts. They flew six space missions starting in 1961 through 1963.

Carpenter was born in Boulder, Colorado, on May 1, 1925, and attended the University of Colorado from 1945 to 1949. He received a bachelor of science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. After college, he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy, where he began flight training at Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas. He was designated a Naval Aviator in April 1951 and served during the Korean war. After that, he attended Navy Test Pilot school at Patuxent River and was subsequently assigned to the Electronics Test Division of the Naval Air Test Center. There, like many other astronauts did, he tested naval aircraft, including multi- and single-engine jet and propeller-driven fighters, attack planes, patrol bombers, transports, and seaplanes.

From 1957 to 1959 he attended the Navy General Line School and the Navy Air Intelligence School. In 1959, Carpenter was selected by NASA as one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts and underwent intensive training, specializing in communication and navigation. He served as backup pilot for astronaut John Glenn during the preparation for America’s first manned orbital space flight in February 1962.

Carpenter flew in the Aurora 7 spacecraft (named after the street he grew up on) on an orbital flight on May 24, 1962. After three orbits, he splashed down about a thousand miles southeast of Cape Canaveral.

Post-Mercury Career

Carpenter next went on a leave of absence from NASA to be part of the Navy’s Man-in the-Sea Project. He worked as an Aquanaut in the SEALAB II program off the coast of La Jolla, California, in the summer of 1965, spending 30 days living and working on the ocean floor. 

He returned to duties with NASA as Executive Assistant to the Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center and was active in the design of the Apollo Lunar Landing Module (used during Apollo 11 and beyond) and in underwater extravehicular activity (EVA) crew training.

In 1967, Carpenter returned to the Navy’s Deep Submergence Systems Project (DSSP) as Director of Aquanaut Operations during the SEALAB III experiment. Upon retirement from the Navy in 1969, after 25 years of service, Carpenter founded and was chief executive officer of Sea Sciences, Inc., a venture capital corporation active in developing programs aimed at enhanced utilization of ocean resources and improved health of the planet. In pursuit of these and other objectives, he worked closely with the French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and members of his Calypso team. He dived in most of the world’s oceans, including the Arctic under ice, and spent time as a consultant to sport and professional diving equipment manufacturers.

He also got involved in developing biological pest control and the production of energy from agricultural and industrial waste. He was also instrumental in the design and improvement of several types of waste handling and waste-transfer equipment.

Carpenter applied his knowledge of aerospace and ocean engineering as a consultant to industry and the private sector. He lectured frequently on the history and future of ocean and space technology, the impact of scientific and technological advance on human affairs, and man’s continuing search for excellence. 

He wrote two novels, both dubbed “underwater techno-thrillers.” The first was entitled The Steel Albatross. The second, a sequel, was called Deep Flight. His memoir, For Spacious Skies which he co-authored with his daughter, Kristen Stoever, was published in 2003. 

Carpenter won numerous awards and honorary degrees for his Navy and NASA work, as well as his contributions to society.  Among them are the Navy's Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, U.S. Navy Astronaut Wings, the University of Colorado Recognition Medal, and seven honorary degrees. 

Scott Carpenter died on October 10, 2013. Learn more about his life and work at

Edited and updated by Carolyn Collins Petersen.