Earlier today, America lost one of its early space heroes – Scott Carpenter, 88, one of the Original Mercury 7 astronauts – who died from complications after a stroke he suffered. The announcement was made by his wife in Colorado where they lived. For those of you too young to remember the early space program, President John F. Kennedy committed the country to enter the space race against the Russians. As part of his vision, the President announced our goal of sending a man to the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade. And we did it – with the touchdown of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the sumer of 1969.
But prior to the Apollo and Gemini programs, the whole thing started with the selection of 7 astronauts for the Mercury program. In mid 1959, Carpenter and his counterparts – Shepherd, Grissom, Glenn, Schirra, Slayton and Cooper mesmerized the country with their bravado and the country fell in love with the idea of space flight. The seven agreed to share and share alike from any proceeds derived as a result of the Mercury program and Alan Shepherd became the first American to fly in space – a short sub-orbital flight. That was followed by Gus Grissom who was later to lose his life in a spacecraft fire preparing for the Apollo program years later. John Glenn was the first American to go on an orbital flight – 3 orbits on Feb. 20, 1962 and then Scott Carpenter, who was Glenn’s back-up astronaut, flew several months later.
History has not necessarily judged Carpenter’s flight kindly. Apparently, due to firing the retro rockets three seconds late, with sub optimal thrust, the spacecraft landed more than 250 miles off target and Carpenter was stranded in the ocean for more than 3 hours – finally found by the ship USS Intrepid. Christopher Craft, the voice of mission control back in those days, was furious that Carpenter did not do more thorough instrument checks prior to re-entry, and it was found that the excessive fuel consumption could have been averted. In fact, Carpenter never flew in space again.
Several years later, Carpenter became fascinated with the sea and at one point, he lived for 30 days on the floor of the ocean. Although he was enamored with both outer space and inner space, his fame came from the work that he did exploring the heavens. With Scott’s death, John Glenn, 92, is the only living Mercury Seven astronaut – and he is an American legend.
The verse for this evening recollects those early days when the country was so fascinated with space flight – everything was about the heavens and the stars. The prophet Isaiah tells us, in Is. 40:26, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” The verse refers, of course, to the creator of the stars and the heavens. My encouragement this evening is to take a moment and stare up at the heavens and behold the wonder of God. My prayer is that you will continue to be amazed the the God of the universe and that Scott Carpenter may rest for all eternity in His outstretched arms. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…