Pioneer Astronaut Walter Schirra
A true US space pioneer Walter “Wally” Schirra, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts who flew in the early days of NASA and the space race has passed away.
He was the only man to fly on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. He is a true “Space Cowboy”. In 1962 he became the third American to orbit the Earth. Three years later he led the first meeting of two spacecraft in orbit, as commander of Gemini 6.
He was the first to rendezvous with a spacecraft in earth orbit. He did not walk on the moon, but was key in ensuring that the Apollo program continue after the events around Apollo 1. He was the commander of the first man-flight in the program Apollo 7.
Schirra stated a clear definition of a space rendezvous. He said:
“Somebody said … when you come to within three miles, you’ve rendezvoused. If anybody thinks they’ve pulled a rendezvous off at three miles, have fun! This is when we started doing our work. I don’t think rendezvous is over until you are stopped – completely stopped – with no relative motion between the two vehicles, at a range of approximately 120 feet. That’s rendezvous! From there on, it’s stationkeeping. That’s when you can go back and play the game of driving a car or driving an airplane or pushing a skateboard — it’s about that simple.”
“It’s a terrible loss of a dear friend, cherished comrade and a brother,” said Schirra’s fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter. “Despite our good natured competition for flights into space, Wally strove to bring a smile to everyone he met and its with a smile that I will forever fondly remember him.”
“We at NASA note with sadness the loss of yet another of the pioneers of human space flight,” a Nasa statement said.
“We who have inherited the space program will always be in his debt.”
Mr Schirra, died of natural causes on Wednesday night at a hospital in La Jolla, California, the space agency said.
There are now only two surviving members of the Mercury Seven astronauts, who became national heroes as the US took on the former Soviet Union in the space race.