Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965

By Francis French; Colin Burgess | Go to book overview
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5. To Rise Above

Man must rise above the Earth,
to the top of the clouds and beyond,
for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.

Socrates

On 24 May 1962, a small spacecraft named Aurora 7 approached the west coast of Australia. Weightless inside the snug cabin, strapped to a custommade contour couch, Lt. Cmdr. Scott Carpenter (USN) soared over the Muchea tracking station 146 miles below. The Mercury astronaut had already witnessed his first sunset. Below him it was already the middle of the night. Traveling at almost three hundred miles a minute, circling the planet every ninety minutes, he was truly on the ride of a lifetime. After three circumnavigations of the planet, Carpenter would return, safely, to a landing in the Atlantic waters northwest of Puerto Rico.

But that was about four hours away. As he approached Muchea, the astronaut spoke with CapCom (and fellow astronaut) Deke Slayton, who, after a greeting, prompted Carpenter for a status report. The second American to orbit the Earth obliged, and added: “Tell John Whettler to saddle up Butch.”

Despite a busy flight plan, Carpenter had taken the time to honor a friendship forged the previous year in a small, isolated town in the Australian outback.

Before it fell victim to improved technology and ceased operations in 1963, the tracking facility at Muchea was a key command station during the Mercury program, for which it had been developed. Located less than forty dusty miles up the Great Northern Highway, north of Perth, the station sat half

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