October 05, 2004

Mercury Astronaut Gordon Cooper Dies at 77

LOS ANGELES - Gordon Cooper, one of the Mercury Seven astronauts who
helped pioneer human space exploration, piloting the last of the
Mercury missions and the troubled Gemini 5 flight, died on Monday. He
was 77.

Cooper, who along with his six fellow Mercury astronauts became an
American hero in the space race against the Soviet Union the 1950s and
60s, died at his home in Ventura, California, NASA said.

"As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper was
one of the faces of America's fledgling space program," NASA
Administrator Sean O'Keefe said in a statement.

"He truly portrayed the right stuff and he helped gain the backing and
enthusiasm of the American public so critical for the spirit of

Cooper's death means that of the original group of seven astronauts
named in 1959 to take America into space, only three survive -- John
Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

Alan Shepard, the first American in space and one of the last to walk
on the moon, died in 1998 at the age of 74.

The seven astronauts were immortalized in the 1983 film "The Right
Stuff," based on the best-selling book by Tom Wolfe. Cooper was played
by Dennis Quaid in the film, which won four Oscars.

Cooper, the youngest of the Mercury Seven, was born in Shawnee,
Oklahoma and served as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force before
being selected for the astronaut program.

After he left NASA and retired from the Air Force in 1970, Cooper
founded a consulting firm. According to NASA, he continued to design
and test new aircraft into his 70s.

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