Friday, October 11, 2013

Scott Carpenter (1925-2013)

Courtesy of my Uncle Jimmy, a photo autographed by all seven of the Mercury astronauts, though some of them don't show up in this scan. That's Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra and John Glenn in the back with Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton and Gordon Cooper in the front. I did not mention to Scott Carpenter that he had smudged his signature on this photo.

I met former astronaut Scott Carpenter when we were both guests at an I-Con at SUNY Stony Brook back in the late 1980s. (Unlike other comic conventions, I-Con had a "hard science" component and the guest list included noted scientists, professors, and explorers.) We were sitting in the guest lounge shortly before we each had to head off to sit on panels.

I mentioned to Carpenter that he and I had a connection that dated back to his days in the space program. My Uncle Jimmy was a NASA engineer, working at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia back when the Mercury astronauts were also stationed there. My cousin Peter went to school with the sons of Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gus Grissom. To my surprise, he remembered Uncle Jimmy -- "He was that little bald guy!"

We chatted about his post-NASA days and his interest in sea exploration. We also noted the coincidence of I-Con being at Stony Brook, as that was also the name of the housing development the astronauts and NASA staff lived in in Newport News.

With the time of our respective panels approaching, I said that I wanted to use the men's room before going on my way. I told Carpenter about Schwartz's Law, named for DC Editor Julie Schwartz: "Don't go anywhere without going first."

Carpenter replied with his own version, courtesy of President Lyndon Johnson. "After I made my space flight, I was in a ticker-tape parade, riding in the car with then-Vice President Johnson. He told me, 'Now that you're famous, there are two things you should never pass up: Free lunch and a chance to go to the bathroom!'" And thus was born Lyndon Johnson's Corollary to Schwartz's Law.

Our paths did not cross again at the convention, but I was glad to have had the chance to speak with him. When I next spoke to Uncle Jimmy, I mentioned that Carpenter remembered him. My uncle's response? "He called me 'that little bald guy'?!"

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