Wally Schirra

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Walter Schirra
Mercury Astronaut Wally Schirra - GPN-2000-001351.jpg
NASA Astronaut
NationalityAmerican
StatusDeceased
Born(1923-03-12)March 12, 1923
Hackensack, New Jersey
DiedMay 3, 2007(2007-05-03) (aged 84)
La Jolla, California
Other occupationTest Pilot
RankCaptain, USN
Time in space12d 7h 12m
SelectionNASA Group One (1959)
MissionsMercury-Atlas 8, Gemini 6A, Apollo 7
Mission insignia
Sigma 7 insignia.jpg Gemini 6A patch.png AP7lucky7.png
RetirementJuly 1, 1969
 
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Walter Schirra
Mercury Astronaut Wally Schirra - GPN-2000-001351.jpg
NASA Astronaut
NationalityAmerican
StatusDeceased
Born(1923-03-12)March 12, 1923
Hackensack, New Jersey
DiedMay 3, 2007(2007-05-03) (aged 84)
La Jolla, California
Other occupationTest Pilot
RankCaptain, USN
Time in space12d 7h 12m
SelectionNASA Group One (1959)
MissionsMercury-Atlas 8, Gemini 6A, Apollo 7
Mission insignia
Sigma 7 insignia.jpg Gemini 6A patch.png AP7lucky7.png
RetirementJuly 1, 1969

Walter Marty Schirra, Jr. (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007) was an American naval officer, Naval Aviator and test pilot, and one of the original seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury, America's first effort to put humans in space. He flew the six-orbit, nine-hour Mercury-Atlas 8 mission on October 3, 1962, becoming the fifth American, and the ninth human, to ride a rocket into space. In the two-man Gemini program, he achieved the first space rendezvous, station-keeping his Gemini 6A spacecraft within 1 foot (30 cm) of the sister Gemini 7 spacecraft in December 1965. In October 1968, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day low Earth orbit shakedown test of the three-man Apollo Command/Service Module. He was the first person to go into space three times, and the only person to have flown in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, logging a total of 295 hours and 15 minutes in space. He retired from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain and from NASA after his Apollo flight, becoming a consultant to CBS News for its coverage of the subsequent Apollo flights. He joined Walter Cronkite as co-anchor for the seven Moon landing missions.

Schirra died at the age of 84 on May 3, 2007 of a heart attack due to malignant mesothelioma.

Biography[edit]

Schirra was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, to an aviation family of Sardinian origin.[1] Schirra's father, Walter M. Schirra, Sr., who was born in Philadelphia,[2] went to Canada during World War I and earned his pilot rating. He later became a barnstormer. Schirra's mother, Florence Leach Schirra, went along on her husband's barnstorming tours and performed wing walking stunts. By the time he was 15, Wally was flying his father's airplane.

Schirra was a Boy Scout and earned the rank of First Class in Troop 36 in Oradell, New Jersey.[3]

Schirra graduated from Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, New Jersey in 1940 and attended the Newark College of Engineering, where he was a member of Sigma Pi Fraternity, Alpha Mu Chapter. He was later appointed to the United States Naval Academy and received a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering. He graduated in 1945.

He married the former Josephine Fraser of Seattle, Washington on February 23, 1946; she was the step-daughter of Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr.. They had two children: Walter M. Schirra, III, born June 23, 1950 and Suzanne, born September 29, 1957.[4][5]

Navy career[edit]

Schirra (2nd from right) at F3H Demon delivery, mid-1950s

He attended the United States Naval Academy from 1942 and graduated in 1945. He was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy, serving the final months of World War II aboard the large armored battle cruiser USS Alaska. After the war ended, he trained as a pilot at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and joined a carrier fighter squadron. He was the second Naval Aviator to log 1,000 hours in jet aircraft.

Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, Schirra was dispatched to South Korea as an exchange pilot on loan to the U.S. Air Force. He served as a flight leader with the 136th Fighter Bomber Wing, and then as operations officer with the 154th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. He flew 90 combat missions between 1951 and 1952, mostly in F-84s. Schirra was credited with downing one MiG-15 and damaging two others. Schirra received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster for his service in Korea.

After his tour in Korea, Schirra served as a test pilot. He attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating in 1958. At China Lake Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) he tested weapons systems such as the Sidewinder missile and the F7U-3 Cutlass jet fighter. During one flight, Schirra fired a Sidewinder missile and the missile "doubled back" and started to chase his jet. Schirra, through skillful flying, avoided the Sidewinder.[6]

After spending time as a flight instructor and carrier based aviator, he later returned to his test pilot duties and helped evaluate the F-4 fighter for Naval service. In the image at left, Schirra is shown taking delivery of a F3H Demon from McDonnell Aircraft Design Chief, Dave Lewis. They remained good friends, later working together on the McDonnell Mercury 7 program.

NASA career[edit]

Mercury[edit]

On April 2, 1959, Schirra was chosen as one of the original seven American astronauts. He entered Project Mercury and was assigned the specialty area of life support systems.

On October 3, 1962, Schirra became the fifth American in space, piloting the Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7) on a six-orbit mission lasting 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 11 seconds. The capsule attained a velocity of 17,557 miles per hour (28,255 km/h) and an altitude of 175 statute miles (282 km), and landed within 4 miles (6.4 km) of the main Pacific Ocean recovery ship.

Gemini[edit]

Schirra in 1966 during a Gemini 6 training simulation
Hohner ad capitalizing on Schirra's harmonica playing, March 1966

On December 15, 1965, Schirra flew into space a second time as command pilot of Gemini 6A, with pilot Tom Stafford. Gemini 6, originally scheduled to launch on October 25, was planned to perform the first space rendezvous and docking with an unmanned Agena target vehicle launched separately, but the Agena was destroyed in a launch failure. It was decided to defer launch of the alternate mission 6A to after the December launch of Gemini 7, during which Schirra would perform rendezvous, but without docking. During the first rescheduled launch attempt, the booster rocket unexpectedly shut down seconds after ignition and did not launch. Although mission rules called for the crew to eject from the spacecraft in that situation, Schirra used his pilot's judgement and did not eject, as he had not detected any upwards motion. This turned out to be the correct call for their personal safety. The flight was launched successfully three days later, and Schirra successfully performed the first rendezvous with Gemini 7 containing astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell, Jr., station-keeping his craft to distances as close as 1 foot (30 cm). Gemini 6 landed in the Atlantic Ocean the next day, while Gemini 7 continued on to set a 14-day manned space record.

While on the Gemini mission, Schirra played a Christmas practical joke on the flight controllers by first reporting a mock UFO (implying Santa Claus) sighting, then playing "Jingle Bells" on a four-hole Hohner harmonica he had smuggled on board, accompanied by Stafford on sleigh bells. Hohner subsequently produced a "Wally Schirra" commemorative model.

Apollo[edit]

In late 1966, Schirra was assigned to command a three-man Apollo crew with Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham to make the second manned flight test of the Apollo Command/Service Module some time in 1967, after the first such flight to be made by Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. But soon after, this second test flight was considered unnecessary, and Schirra's crew was reassigned as Grissom's backup. But in January 1967, Grissom and his crew were killed in a cabin fire during a ground test of Apollo 1. Schirra's crew was thereby promoted to prime crew of the first manned flight. This became Apollo 7 in the program's revised mission numbering plan, and was delayed to the fall of 1968 while safety improvements were made to the Command Module.

Schirra, like most of the Mercury and Gemini astronauts, had come to gain a sense of security from the Pad Leader responsible for the spacecraft's launch readiness, an extremely diligent, uncompromising McDonnell Aircraft employee named Guenter Wendt. But since the Apollo contractor was North American Aviation, Wendt was no longer pad leader. After the Apollo 1 accident, Schirra felt so strongly he wanted none other than Wendt as pad leader for his Apollo flight, that he pulled strings with his boss Deke Slayton and North American's launch operations manager Bastian "Buzz" Hello to hire Wendt so he could be Apollo 7 pad leader. Wendt remained pad leader for the remainder of the Apollo and Skylab programs, and stayed on with NASA into the Space Shuttle program before retiring.[7]

Schirra looks out the window in front of the commander's station on Apollo 7.

Apollo 7 was launched on October 11, 1968, making Schirra the first person to fly in space three times. Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham spent eleven days in Earth orbit, performed space rendezvous exercises with the upper stage of the Saturn 1-B launch vehicle that sent them into space, and provided the first live television pictures publicly broadcast from inside a manned spacecraft, for which Schirra received an Emmy award. (An experimental TV transmission had been made during Gordon Cooper's Mercury flight, but this was not broadcast to the public.)

During the mission, Schirra caught what would become perhaps the most famous head cold in NASA history. He soon passed the cold to Eisele, and the crew became known for their grumpy exchanges with Mission Control. Schirra had made the decision before launch to retire after this flight, and left the NASA Astronaut Corps.

Schirra's logbooks show a total of 4,577 hours flight time (including 295 in space) and 267 carrier landings.

In 2008, NASA posthumously awarded Schirra the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Apollo 7 mission.[8]

Television career[edit]

A combination of pseudoephedrine decongestant with triprolidine antihistamine was the cold medicine carried on board the Apollo missions and prescribed by the flight surgeon. Years later when this became available over the counter as Actifed, the makers of Actifed hired Schirra as a television commercial spokesman, based on the notoriety of his Apollo 7 in-space head cold.[9]

During later Apollo missions, he served as a consultant to CBS News, joining Walter Cronkite to co-anchor the network's coverage of the seven Moon landing missions, starting with Apollo 11 (joined by Arthur C. Clarke),[10] including the ill-fated Apollo 13.

Writing career[edit]

In 1988 (republished in 1999) Wally Schirra, with Richard N. Billings, released his first autobiography Schirra's Space.

In 1995 Schirra co-authored the book Wildcats to Tomcats: The Tailhook Navy with fellow Navy Captains Richard L. (Zeke) Cormier, and Phil Wood, with Barrett Tillman as the writer. It has a section by each of these Naval Aviators that cover five decades of flight experiences, including combat tours in World War II, Korea & Vietnam.

In 2005 Schirra co-authored the book The Real Space Cowboys with Ed Buckbee. The book is an account of the 'Mercury Seven' astronauts. It follows them through the process of selection for the program, their entire careers, and into retirement. Wernher von Braun, NASA, Space Camp, and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center are given special attention.

Schirra was also a major contributor to the 2007 book, In the Shadow of the Moon, which captured his final published thoughts on his life and career.

Death[edit]

The USNS Wally Schirra (Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship) was named after Schirra.

Schirra died on May 3, 2007 of a heart attack due to malignant mesothelioma at Scripps Green Hospital (currently The Heart Center at Scripps) in La Jolla, California.[11][12] A memorial service for Schirra was held on May 22 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in California. The ceremony concluded with a three-volley salute and a flyover by three F/A-18s. Schirra was cremated and his ashes were committed to the sea on February 11, 2008. The burial-at-sea ceremony was held aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and his ashes were released by Commander Lee Axtell, CHC, USN, the command chaplain aboard.[13][14]

Awards and legacy[edit]

NASA award given to Schirra in 1965.

He received:

The USNS Wally Schirra, a Lewis and Clark class dry cargo ship named for Schirra, was christened and launched March 8, 2009.[15]

In 2010 Schirra was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[16]

A street and a small park are named after Schirra in Oradell, New Jersey and Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania.

An elementary school in Old Bridge, NJ, is named after Wally Schirra.[17]

In media[edit]

Wally Schirra was portrayed by Lance Henriksen in the film The Right Stuff and by Mark Harmon in the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Schirra was mentioned in the second episode of WKRP in Cincinnati. The "Pilot Part 2" episode from 9/25/1978, featured the Station Manager, Arthur Carlson saying that his maid believed Wally Schirra was controlling her mind and she believed she had to store up foods.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Corriere di Napoli, 4 ottobre 1962, pagina 5
  2. ^ National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; State Headquarters: New Jersey. U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942
  3. ^ "Astronauts and the BSA". Fact sheet. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2007-05-02. 
  4. ^ NASA Biography of Schirra
  5. ^ "About Wally" page at WallySchirra.com
  6. ^ ^ "Test Pilot". Retrieved 2012-01-26.
  7. ^ Farmer, Gene; Dora Jane Hamblin (1970). First On the Moon: A Voyage With Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. pp. 51–54. Library of Congress 76-103950. 
  8. ^ "First Apollo flight crew last to be honored". collectSPACE. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  9. ^ NASA 40 year Mercury 7
  10. ^ CBS Sunday Morning, March 23, 2008
  11. ^ Watkins, Thomas (May 4, 2007). "Former astronaut "Wally" Schirra dies at 84". The Seattle Times. 
  12. ^ Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner report ME07-525
  13. ^ Navy NewsStand - Eye on the Fleet
  14. ^ Navy NewsStand - Eye on the Fleet
  15. ^ "Navy To Christen USNS Wally Schirra". Press release. United States Department of Defense. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  16. ^ The Newark Star Ledger. 
  17. ^ "Walter M. Schirra Elementary School accessdate=2009-03-12". 

References[edit]

External links[edit]