04 May 2007

RIP: Capt Walter M Schirra Jr, USN (ret)

Schirra (suited up for his Mercury flight) talking with fellow astronaut Deke Slayton

ZUI this article from the Tampa Tribune:
Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr., who followed his barnstorming parents into the sky as a Navy combat pilot and was the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, died Thursday of a heart attack in La Jolla, Calif. He was 84.

"With the passing of Wally Schirra, we at NASA note with sorrow the loss of yet another of the pioneers of human spaceflight," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a statement.

A Naval Academy graduate credited with shooting down at least one enemy jet during the Korean War, Schirra was chosen as one of America's seven original Project Mercury astronauts.

On Oct. 3, 1962, he lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the Sigma 7 space capsule for America's fifth manned space mission and third orbital flight.

The Detroit News says:
His family said he died of natural causes, David Mould, NASA press secretary in Washington, said Thursday. Mould said he had been suffering from cancer but didn't know if that contributed to the death.

In October 1962, Schirra became the third American to orbit the Earth, encircling the globe six times in a flight that lasted more than nine hours. Americans in space before him were Alan Shepard and Virgil "Gus" Grissom, who flew suborbital flights in 1961, and John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, who orbited Earth earlier in 1962.

Schirra returned to space three years later as commander of Gemini 6 and guided his two-man capsule toward Gemini 7, already in orbit. On Dec. 15, 1965, the two ships came within a few feet of each other as they shot through space, some 185 miles above the Earth. It was the first rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbit.

His third and final space flight in 1968 inaugurated the Apollo program that the following year put men on the moon.


A native of Hackensack, N.J., Schirra developed an early interest in flight. His father was a fighter pilot during World War I and later barnstormed at county fairs with Schirra's mother, who sometimes stood of the wing of a biplane during flights.

Wally, as he liked to be called, took his first flight with his father at age 13 and already knew how to fly when he left home for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

After graduation in 1945, Schirra served in the Seventh Fleet and flew 90 combat missions during the Korean War. He was credited with shooting down one Soviet MiG-15 and possibly a second. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals.

His official NASA biography page is here. Another biography page is here.

Lieutenant Schirra in Korea

No comments: