Godspeed, Scott Carpenter

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Navy Commander Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts, passed away last week. The mainstream press has been extremely kind and reverential to the memory of Commander Carpenter, an attitude with which we agree wholeheartedly. Carpenter was the second American, after John Glenn, to orbit the Earth (in his capsule, Aurora 7). And it was Carpenter who uttered those immortal words, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” as Glenn took to the skies in February 1962 in his own Mercury Capsule, Friendship 7.

Carpenter followed Glenn into orbit a few months later. Carpenter never flew in space after his Aurora 7 mission, the result of an injury suffered in a motorcycle accident. But he did go on to explore a new frontier – the ocean floor. A few years after his spaceflight, he spent a month aboard Sealab as a part of the Navy’s ocean exploration program.

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image by scottcarpenter.com

But here at w&w, we’d like to highlight what the mainstream press has overlooked: Carpenter’s involvement with the creation of an horological icon, the Breitling Cosmonaute. Because of the potential necessity of distinguishing AM from PM while going from day to night in orbit many times during a 24 hour period, Carpenter had the idea for a wristwatch with a 24 hour dial. He approached Breitling with the idea (he’d worn Breitling Navitimers during his military service during the Korean war and afterwards as a test pilot). As a result, the Cosmonaute was born.

Carpenter received the 24 hour timepiece he wore during Aurora 7’s mission just a few weeks before his flight. Because his flight lasted only five hours, it was not a rigorous test of the 24 hour dial concept but nonetheless, an icon was born, and Carpenter secured his place in horological as well as astronautical history. In 1996 Breitling released the Scott Carpenter model of the Cosmonaute. The edition was limited to 1000 pieces.

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A sad but interesting footnote to the story of Carpenter and the Cosmonaute is the fact that, while being picked up during recovery of Aurora 7, Carpenter dipped his arm – and the Cosmonaute – in the water. The watch was not water resistant and suffered damage. NASA returned the watch to Breitling for repairs, but the watch went missing and has never been found despite Breitling’s efforts to locate it.

Scott Carpenter, his achievements in space and sea as well as his contribution to horology will live on in our memories, history books and possibly on our wrists. Another great achievement of Carpenter, alongside more than 100 other astronauts, was the founding of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Through the foundation, students who are exceptional in math and science are given scholarships to help further their education and research. The ASF is always accepting donations, so should the spirit of space exploration stir you, head over and help support the potential astronauts of tomorrow.

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by Ed Estlow

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