Scott Carpenter, who uttered the famous line, “Godspeed, John Glenn,” when Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, had a tough childhood, but he never let that stop him.
Raised by his grandfather, Carpenter was pretty much on his own by age 14 and became a wild teenager. Luckily, after a high-speed car crash sent him to the hospital, he decided to turn himself around.
He went to college and became a Navy pilot. In the late 1950s, he applied for Project Mercury, the first U.S. human spaceflight program.
Three months after Glenn’s flight, it was Carpenter who blasted off.
“He was enjoying himself,” Tom Wolfe wrote. “He talked more, ate more, drank more water, and did more with the capsule than any of them ever had. He was swinging the capsule this way and that way, taking photographs a mile a minute, making detailed observations of the sunrises and horizon.”
After overshooting the re-entry, Carpenter was absolved of error, but the flight director said he had recklessly ignored directions and swore that he would never again fly in space. He never did, going on to become a pioneer in ocean exploration.
— Adapted from The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.