Monday, October 04, 2004

Who was the greatest fighter pilot you ever saw?

It's almost as if the Space Gods are taunting us. On the same day SpaceShipOne wins the Anansi X Prize, one of the original Mercury 7, Gordon Cooper, is taken from this world:
Gordon Cooper, who was the youngest and perhaps cockiest member of the original Mercury astronauts and set the space endurance record that helped clear the way for the first moon landing, has died. He was 77.

Cooper died today at his home in Ventura, NASA officials said in a statement. He died of natural causes, said Mitch Breese, of the county medical examiner's office.

Cooper's death leaves only three of the original Mercury 7 still alive: Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. Cooper, of course, was probably the most flamboyant of the bunch:
When asked who was the greatest fighter pilot he ever saw, Cooper enthusiastically answered, "You're looking at him!"

I've met my share of celebrities in my time--star athletes, singers, actors, politicians--but the only times I've ever gotten really geeky and star-struck was when astronauts were involved. I found out just the other day that an Apollo astronaut lives just a few miles from me, and was downright giddy. These people are flawed and human, sure, but they've actually done what I've dreamed about since childhood. Astronauts, more than anything else, are the reason I write science fiction. Cooper was part of that, and his loss diminishes us all.

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