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M. Scott Carpenter papers

Identifier: COU:304

Scope and Contents

The Scott Carpenter collection has only received preliminary inventory and remains in the order in which it was received. The collection is partially organized by topic. The bulk of the documents are publications, both by Carpenter but many from other doctors and scientists regarding aeronautics, NASA, and space travel. The collection also holds flight and pilot manuals, official reports, magazines, photographs, as well as personal miscellaneous memorabilia.


  • 1959 - 1967

Biographical Note

M. Scott Carpenter, born in 1925 in Boulder Colorado, was the second American to orbit the earth, in 1962. The son of Marion and his mother Florence, Carpenter became a naval cadet in 1943, but World War II ended before he could attain his wings. In 1945 he enrolled in the University of Colorado Boulder and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1949. Commissioned into the Navy in the same year, Carpenter received flight training in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Cristi, Texas.

During the Korean War, Carpenter served with Squadron 6, flying patrol planes. In 1954 Carpenter attended the Navy test pilot school in Patuxent River, Maryland. President John F. Kennedy had formulated the goal of putting a man on the moon, and in April 1959, Carpenter was chosen among 6 other military pilots to form the first space program, the Mercury Project.

After undergoing intense training with the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), carpenter was chosen as the backup pilot for John Glenn, who on February 20, 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth. On May 24th of the same year, Carpenter flew the second manned orbital, piloting the Aurora 7. Carpenter’s flight last four hours and 54 minutes, circling the Earth three times and reaching an altitude of 164 miles.

Unfortunately, carpenter’s flight had numerous complications during reentry. The equipment controlling the way the capsule was facing malfunctioned, requiring him to determine the capsule’s proper attitude visually. Because of this, as well as firing his re-entry rockets three seconds late caused Carpenter to land nearly 250 nautical miles from his intended landing point. For 39 minutes NASA feared Carpenter had perished on impact until a Navy search plane found him.

The complications with Carpenters re-entry were a point of contention among NASA officials. Some believed that acts of negligence had caused some of the malfunctions and fuel deprivation in the spacecraft. But nonetheless, Carpenter was received with great celebration and was congratulated by President Kennedy. Injuries suffered during a motorcycle accident ended any prospect of Carpenter returning to space which led to his leaving NASA in 1967

During a leave of absence from NASA in the summer of 1965, Carpenter participated in the Navy’s Man-in-the-Sea Project as an Aquanaut in the SEALAB II program off the coast of La Jolla, California. This project required Carpenter to spend a month underwater at a depth of 205 ft. working and living on the Ocean floor. This pioneering act made carpenter the first American to hold the dual title of astronaut and aquanaut. With this unique skillset Carpenter, on returning to NASA helped develop underwater training to help astronauts prepare for space.

After leaving NASA in 1967 and retiring from the Navy in 1969 Carpenter worked as a consultant for diving equipment manufactures and authored two books on underwater adventures as well as an autobiography co-written with his daughter titles For Spacious Skies.

Carpenter’s awards include 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, the Collier Trophy, the New York City Gold Medal of Honor, the Elisha Kent Kane Medal, the Ustica Gold Trident and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Buffalo. He was awarded seven honorary degrees.

He died on October 10th 2010 in Denver Colorado. He is survived by four sons, two daughters and a granddaughter.


22.5 linear feet

Language of Materials



Malcom Scott Carpenter (1925-2010) was the second American to orbit the earth. His 1962 orbit, which lasted for nearly five hours experienced numerous problems on reentry in which NASA feared his death. In addition to being one of the members of America’s original space program, project mercury, Carpenter also served in the U.S. Navy in which he spent many month living underwater. These pioneering acts led to Carpenter becoming the first American to hold both titles of astronaut and aquanaut. The carpenter collection includes numerous publications and reports on both project mercury, NASA and spacecraft, as well as documents pertaining to submarine living, and marine exploits.

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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States