24 May 1962: Lieutenant Commander Malcolm Scott Carpenter, United States Navy, NASA Astronaut, was launched aboard Mercury-Atlas 7 at 12:45:16 UTC, from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the fourth manned space flight of the American space program. Carpenter was the sixth human to fly in space.
5 Minutes, 20 seconds after liftoff, Aurora 7 entered Earth orbit, having reached a speed of 17,549 miles per hour (28,242 kilometers per hour). The orbit was elliptical, with a minimum altitude of 83 nautical miles (153.7 kilometers) and a maximum of 140 nautical miles (259.3 kilometers). Carpenter completed an orbit every 88.3 minutes.
During the orbital phase of the mission, a pitch horizon scanner—part of the automatic flight control system—malfunctioned, causing the capsule’s attitude jets to fire to correct perceived errors in the ship’s attitude. This caused an excessive consumption of the hydrogen peroxide fuel for the reaction controls.
At T+04:30:00 (four hours, thirty minutes after launch) the Mercury capsule’s retrorockets fired to slow the capsule and begin the reentry phase of the flight. Each of the retro rockets fired at 5 second intervals and burned for 10 seconds. The capsule decelerated 550 feet per second (168 meters per second) and fell out of orbit. The PHS failed again, yawing Aurora 7 25° off track, which prevented the full thrust of the retrorockets from being directed along the correct path. Scott Carpenter had to fire the rockets manually and this slight delay along with the misalignment of the capsule, caused it to overshoot the planned splashdown point in the Atlantic ocean by approximately 250 nautical miles (463 kilometers).
At 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) Aurora 7‘s main parachute opened. Aurora 7 splashed down at . The total duration of the flight was 4 hours, 57 minutes, 10 seconds.
Scott Carpenter and Aurora 7 were recovered by Sikorsky HSS-2 (SH-3) Sea King helicopters from USS Intrepid (CVS-11).
The flight of Scott Carpenter and Aurora 7 was a success, but Carpenter was subject to criticism for his performance during the mission. In 1963, he was injured in a motorcycle accident and lost some mobility in his left arm. Despite two surgical procedures, it was determined that he was ineligible for spaceflight. He resigned from NASA in 1967 and retired from the U.S Navy in 1969 with the rank of Commander.
The Mercury spacecraft, named Aurora 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 18th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. It was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, and, bell-shaped, had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.5 inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch
The rocket, a “1-½ stage”, liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 107-D, was built by Convair at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle. The LV-3B was 94.3 feet (28.7 meters) tall with a maximum diameter of 10.0 feet (3.05 meters). When ready for launch it weighed 260,000 pounds (120,000 kilograms) and could place a 1,360 kilogram payload into Low Earth orbit. The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Canoga Park, California. The XLR89 booster had two 150,000 pound thrust chambers, and the LR105 sustainer engine produced 57,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Malcolm Scott Carpenter died 10 October 2013 at the age of 88. His spacecraft, Aurora 7, is on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, Lakeshore Drive, Chicago, Illinois.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby