Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wally Schirra

Wally Schirra died today at age 84. He was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts - those with the "right stuff." Schirra died in California.

"With the passing of Wally Schirra, we at NASA note with sorrow the loss of yet another of the pioneers of human space flight," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin in a statement. "We who have inherited the space program will always be in his debt."

Schirra was the only astronaut to fly on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights. He orbited Earth six times in an October 1962 Mercury flight, making him the third man in space.

Schirra never got to the moon, but his command of the Apollo 7 mission in October 1968 paved the way for the subsequent moon missions.

Astronauts are something of a "dime a dozen" where I live. The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson attracts them to the area on a regular basis. But I've always had a soft spot for Wally Schirra.

Many years ago when I was a young TV reporter in Lexington, Kentucky I got to interview him - ever so briefly. His flight had been delayed and he was late for a speech, but he took a few minutes to speak with us in a parking lot and was pleasant, charming and witty. I was too young and foolish to fully appreciate the greatness of the man in front of me, but even I knew it was a moment I would savor in retrospect. And I have - many times.

Schirra once wrote, "We shared a common dream to test the limits of man's imagination and daring. 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."

Condolences to his friends and family.

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