Being alone in space must be a very eerie feeling, so much nothingness while you look back at the Earth and realize just how small we are in this galaxy. Of course, it becomes even scarier when you factor a complete electrical failure of your spacecraft. That is exactly what happened to Gordo Cooper the last American astronaut to solo fly into space and almost did not make it back.
Over 50 years ago Leroy Gordon Cooper piloted NASA’s last Mercury mission, which was codenamed Atlas 8. Cooper who was nicknamed and commonly called Gordo, was not simply the last American to travel into space, his journey also broke world records. Gordo became the longest amount of time spent in space. The Mercury program really only had one mission: send a man into space before the Russians and well even though they failed that goal, they were able to complete others. Such as allowing the first American to travel in space.
Before the Atlas 9 missions, the flight time out of the Earth’s orbit really was a mere matter of minutes. Whereas Gordo spent 10 hours 19 minutes and 49 seconds in space. He made 22 full orbits of the planet before he splashed down in the Pacific on May 16th. During his space voyage, he ate a dinner of a powdered down roast beef mush. Gordo was also able to capture several mesmerizing pictures of Earth and he was also one of the first astronauts to sleep in space.
But the craziest part of his story is still to come, it happened when he was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. His craft lost pretty much all electrical power, this meant Gordo had no attitude readings and all of the automatic stabilization or control systems were not working. He was going to have to manually re-entry his craft back to Earth. And any error would be a tragedy: g-forces could crush him or worse he could bounce off the atmosphere and hurtle out into space.
Gordo used his knowledge of star patterns and made his calculations by drawing lines on Faith 7’s window to help him track his orientation and he watched his wristwatch for time. Amazingly he was able to time the manual re-entry perfectly, splashing down to safety, right next to the aircraft carrier that was sent to pick him up.