Over the last half-century, Scott Carpenter and the University of Colorado Boulder have been an integral part of the Space Age. We share Boulder's pride that he is one of our own. We take great honor that he is the first of 19 astronauts with CU-Boulder roots. Commander Carpenter’s association with CU has inspired us as national leaders in aerospace engineering and the space sciences.
Cmdr. Carpenter is not only an astronaut but also an aquanaut, earning the unique distinction as the first human to penetrate both inner and outer space. He took a leave of absence from NASA to serve as a deep-water explorer on SEALAB II in 1965, living and working on the ocean floor for a month at a depth of more than 200 feet. His work as an aquanaut also foreshadowed our leading edge work at CU monitoring the world’s oceans to document climate change.
Born and raised in Boulder – at Aurora Avenue and 7th Street -- Cmdr. Carpenter graduated from Boulder High School and attended CU.
In the predawn of May 24, 1962, Boulder residents gathered with CU students, faculty and staff on campus to nervously watch a live TV screening of Cmdr. Carpenter’s Aurora 7 launch. Together they cheered the dramatic helicopter rescue of their favorite son as the space capsule bobbed in the Atlantic Ocean. We take pride that Cmdr. Carpenter spoke at our commencement three weeks after becoming the second American to orbit Earth.
When he left CU in 1949 to pursue his Naval career, he was one course shy of receiving his degree in aeronautical engineering. He was awarded his degree at the 1962 commencement shortly after returning from space.
In presenting the degree, CU President Quigg Newton joked that Cmdr. Carpenter’s “training as an astronaut more than made up for his deficiency in the subject of heat transfer.”
As dramatic as Scott Carpenter’s biography is, it does not begin to explain the legacy he has established for our community and for our university.
As one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts chosen by NASA, Cmdr. Carpenter blazed a trail of space exploration that was followed by 18 more astronauts from CU.
They include Jack Swigert, pilot of the legendary Apollo 13 mission and later elected to Congress in Colorado. Vance Brand, who served as command module pilot during the first U.S.-Soviet joint space flight in 1975, and as commander of three space shuttle missions; Ellison Onizuka, who we lost in the Challenger accident in 1986, and Kalpana Chawla, who was lost in the Columbia accident in 2003.
Their courage captures the spirit of exploration and adventure that embodies all of our discovery, research and innovation at CU today in disciplines as varied as space sciences, geosciences, sustainable energy, and biotechnology – all areas in which we are national leaders. Scott Carpenter and his fellow CU astronauts established this spirit as a CU legacy, and it is a characteristic that remains with us today.
Cmdr. Carpenter sparked at CU a long tradition of achievement in the space program. Just last week, our aerospace engineering program was ranked 12th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
If Cmdr. Carpenter were a student at CU today he would have the opportunity as an undergraduate to control satellites at our Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics not far from here, and work side-by-side with CU scientists on MAVEN, the Mars atmosphere explorer that represents the biggest research contract in the university’s history.
Cmdr. Carpenter should be proud to know that his work paved the way for CU to become perhaps the leading space research university in the country – the only university to send instruments to every planet in the solar system, a university that is consistently NASA’s top-funded public university.
His service in the United States Navy as part of the generation of veterans who served in World War II and Korea helped establish a legacy of military honors that CU student-veterans have continued into the present. Today, hundreds of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan study at CU-Boulder, embodying an ethic of service, sacrifice and dedication that enriches our campus community beyond measure.
Cmdr. Carpenter is indeed a trailblazer. His life’s work represents the best of what CU-Boulder has been, and the promise of what it will be: in outer space, in the depths of our oceans and across our beautiful planet, and in the indefinable terrain of the human spirit.
Thank you, Scott Carpenter. We have followed your long career with awe and respect. Know that in all your journeys CU has gone with you. We honor you today as you have honored our university and our nation. Welcome home.