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Veteran Astronaut Walter Schirra Dies

NASA News wrote:
> May 3, 2007
> David Mould
> Headquarters, Washington
> 202-358-1898
> RELEASE: 07-100
> LA JOLLA, Calif. - Pioneering astronaut Walter "Wally" Schirra, the 
> only man who flew in all three of America's first human space 
> projects - Mercury, Gemini and Apollo - died Wednesday night. He was 
> 84. Schirra's family reported he died of natural causes. 
> Schirra was one of America's original seven astronauts, selected in 
> 1959, and was commander of the first crew to fly into space aboard an 
> Apollo capsule, Apollo 7, following the tragic launchpad fire that 
> claimed the lives of the crew of Apollo 1. 
> "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. "As a Mercury astronaut, Wally 
> was a member of the first group of astronauts to be selected, often 
> referred to as the Original Seven." 
> Schirra's first space flight was piloting the fifth Mercury mission on 
> Oct. 3, 1962, orbiting Earth six times in 9 hours and 13 minutes. 
> During the flight he took hundreds of photos of Earth and space 
> phenomena. Schirra's capsule, Sigma 7, splashed down only 5 miles 
> from the recovery carrier. 
> As commander of Gemini 6-A, which launched on Dec. 15, 1965, Schirra 
> flew with astronaut Tom Stafford on a mission that included the first 
> rendezvous of two manned, maneuverable spacecraft. Gemini 6-A and 
> Gemini 7 flew in formation for five hours, as close as one foot to 
> one another. 
> During his 11-day Apollo 7 flight, which began Oct. 11, 1968, he and 
> fellow crewmembers Walt Cunningham and Donn Eisele tested the Apollo 
> systems and proved Apollo was ready to take astronauts to the moon. 
> "We shared a common dream to test the limits of man's imagination and 
> daring," Schirra wrote of America's early astronauts. "Those early 
> pioneering flights of Mercury, the performances of Gemini and the 
> trips to the moon established us once and for all as what I like to 
> call a spacefaring nation. Like England, Spain and Portugal crossing 
> the seas in search of their nations' greatness, so we reached for the 
> skies and ennobled our nation." 
> Schirra retired from the Navy as a captain and from NASA in 1969 and 
> became a commentator with CBS News. His enthusiasm and knowledge of 
> the space program coupled with his charismatic on-the-air presence 
> made him an even more widely known national and international figure. 
> He complemented CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite and the two became a 
> powerful space-coverage team. Schirra worked for CBS from 1969 to 
> 1975. He also engaged in a range of business activities and in 1979 
> formed his own consultant company, Schirra Enterprises. 
> Walter M. Schirra, Jr., was born in Hackensack, N.J., on March 12, 
> 1923. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, and from 
> Naval Flight Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., in 1947. 
> After service as a carrier-based fighter pilot and operations 
> officer, he attended the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, 
> Md. During the Korean War he flew F-86 Sabres under an exchange 
> program with the Air Force. 
> Schirra was chosen as one of the original "Mercury Seven" from among 
> 110 selected test pilots from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps 
> after exhaustive physical and psychological examinations. 
> Known for lively storytelling and practical jokes, one of his 
> best-known anecdotes from astronaut training came when he and the 
> others were continually being examined and subjected to demands for 
> samples of body fluids. When one nurse insisted he provide a urine 
> sample, Schirra reportedly filled a 5-gallon jug with warm water, 
> detergent and iodine and left it on her desk. 
> "Levity makes life a lot easier," he once told a Houston reporter. 
> Griffin noted that "It was impossible to know Wally, even to meet him, 
> without realizing at once that he was a man who relished the lighter 
> side of life, the puns and jokes and pranks that can enliven a 
> gathering. But this was a distraction from the true nature of the 
> man. His record as a pioneering space pilot shows the real stuff of 
> which he was made. We who have inherited today's space program will 
> always be in his debt." 
> The Mercury Seven trained initially at NASA's Langley Research Center 
> in Hampton, Va. In 1961 they moved to the newly established Manned 
> Spacecraft Center (now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center) near 
> Houston. 
> Schirra's Sigma 7 mission was called "the perfect flight" by space 
> reporter and author Howard Benedict. After Schirra's splashdown near 
> the carrier USS Kearsarge near Midway Island in the Pacific, he 
> pronounced himself "healthy as a bear" and "happy as a lark." 
> Schirra's Gemini flight with Stafford was something of an 
> improvisation. They had been scheduled to rendezvous in orbit with an 
> unmanned Agena to be launched 90 minutes before the Gemini liftoff. 
> But six minutes after the Atlas-Agena left the pad it exploded, and 
> the Gemini 6-A launch was postponed. 
> Eventually it was decided to use Gemini 7 as a rendezvous target for 
> Gemini 6-A. Both were to be launched from Pad 19 at Cape Canaveral, 
> so a record turnaround of the launch pad was necessary. Working 
> around the clock, crews got the pad ready in just eight days after 
> the Gemini 7 liftoff. 
> The Gemini 6-A countdown reached zero on Dec. 12, 1965, and the rocket 
> engines ignited - then shut down. The two astronauts had to wait 
> almost half an hour atop the fueled rocket before getting out of the 
> capsule. The problem turned out to be minor, the failure of an 
> electrical connection. 
> Three days later, Gemini 6-A was launched without a hitch. The mission 
> proved the spacecraft could be readily maneuvered. It was an 
> encouraging development in the race to reach the moon. 
> By the launch of Apollo 7 in October 1968, the moon landing seemed to 
> be coming within reach. The success of the flight proved that it was. 
> Accomplishments of the mission commanded by Schirra resulted in the 
> next flight, Apollo 8, being sent around the moon. 
> Apollo 7 had not been all smooth sailing. All three astronauts had 
> colds. Schirra was occasionally firm in rejecting requests from the 
> ground to insert additional events in the already-crowded flight 
> plan. 
> "Television will be delayed, without any further discussion, until 
> after the rendezvous" (with a spent rocket stage), he said. He 
> subsequently was even more critical of efforts to add events to the 
> flight plan. Eventually the almost daily television transmissions 
> from Apollo 7 became popular mainstays of the mission coverage. 
> Schirra subsequently apologized for the tone of some of his 
> criticisms, though not for their content. 
> After leaving NASA, he participated in a number of television 
> presentations and films, and served as national spokesman for several 
> organizations and companies. He also held numerous directorships for 
> a variety of businesses, in addition to his consulting work. He also 
> wrote two books, "We Seven" published in 1960 and "Schirra's Space" 
> published in 1988. 
> Schirra's military awards included the Navy Distinguished Service 
> Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals, two NASA 
> Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and 
> the Philippines Legion of Honor. 
> He was awarded honorary doctorates by several institutions of higher 
> learning. 
> He was active in a number of organizations. He was on the Advisory 
> Committee of the Oceans Foundations, the Advisory Board/Council of 
> U.S. National Parks, the Advisory Board of International "Up With 
> People" and was a founding member and director of the Mercury Seven 
> Foundation. 
> He also was a director of the San Diego Aerospace Museum, a trustee of 
> the Scripps Aquarium, and a member of the International Council of 
> the Salk Institute. 
> Schirra lived in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Survivors include his wife 
> Josephine, his daughter Suzanne and son Walter Schirra III. 
> Images and video from Schirra's years with NASA can be seen at: 
> http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/walter_schirra.html
> -end-
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