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During his distinguished military flying career, Cooper was one of the best of the best at Edwards Air Force Base, where the setting of world records for speed, endurance, and altitude was an everyday occurrence. Even before joining this nation's newly formed manned space program, he understood the dangerous nature of new technologies: hanging it over the edge and pushing the envelope, then hauling it back in and doing it again tomorrow. .
"Gordo" Cooper learned to fly with his father at age eight in his hometown of Shawnee, Oklahoma, and soloed by the time he was twelve. As an impressionable boy, he met overnight visitors to the Cooper household, including famous aviators like Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post, which only heightened his desire to take to the skies. .
Ride with Cooper through his adventurous life in the cockpits of planes and spacecraft alike--he was the last American to go into space alone, exactly thirty-five years ago. He flew in Mercury and Gemini, and served as head of flight crew operations for both Apollo and Skylab, America's first orbiting space station. He was also backup command pilot for Apollo X and directed design input changes for the space shuttle program. He was buddies with Gus Grissom, who died in the tragic Apollo I fire at Cape Canaveral, and was close to Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who was responsible for the United States beating Russia into space, and then to the Moon. Through it all, Cooper, a hero who shuns the label, speaks candidly of his defeats as well as his accomplishments. His life is a tapestry of space travel in the twentieth century. .
And beyond. From a source as credible as Gordo Cooper come these claims: He innocently took revealing pictures of the mysterious Area 51 during his Gemini mission and ended up in the White House speaking about it to the president of the United States; he and other military pilots have chased unidentified aircraft in their Jets; and footage of UFOs taken by his film crew was confiscated by the government, all part of the U.S. military's long-time UFO cover-up. .
Buckle yourself in and prepare for a wild ride; Leap of Faith takes you places you have never been before—and with Cooper's firm hand at the controls. .
In early January 1959 I received unexpected orders to report to Washington, D.C. At the time I was a thirty-two-year old air force captain with twelve years of service, based at topsecret Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert.
The best test pilots in the air force were assembled at Edwards, and I had a great job. As a test pilot in the engineering branch, I had the best of both worlds. I saw a project from the design and administrative side as well as from the pilot's seat. I was testing and flying the nation's top new aircraft-hot fighters like the F-102 and F-106, and the secret U-2, a reconnaissance aircraft built like a graceful glider (and not much faster than one) with an unusually long wingspan and lightweight fuselage, that could fly higher than the surface-to-air missiles of the day.
A day or two before I was due to leave for Washington, I was called into the base commander's office with three other test pilots-including one named Donald "Deke" Slayton-who had received similar orders.
Our commanding officer, General Marcus F. Cooper (no relation), asked if any of us knew what our orders were about.
"No, sir," we all replied.
"No one will tell me anything," the general groused.
He was a good CO, a lot better than the old-stick-in-the mud general he'd replaced a year earlier. General Cooper remembered what it was like to be a young pilot, and he was very protective of his men as long as we did the job he asked of us.
I did see in the paper the other day," he went on, "that McDonnell Aircraft has been awarded a contract for the new manned space program that's starting up."
Myears perked up. I knew nothing about any "manned space program."
"Gentlemen," General Cooper said with authority, "if this has anything to do with flying in space, I want you to be very careful what you volunteer for. I don't want my best pilots to be involved in some idiotic program."
It had been a little over a year since that historic day in October 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik, the world's first manmade satellite. The 184-pound satellite-about the size of a basketball-could be heard by American tracking stations as it orbited Earth making a characteristic "beep-beep" sound. Residents of neighborhoods across the country waited anxiously in their yards and streets, peering into the sky at a fastmoving speck of light that was surprisingly easy to see.
I had realized that Sputnik stood to open up a whole new era, and that the Soviet Union had the potential for being one up on us militarily. It reasoned that people and events on Earth could one day be observed from space. When that happened, there would be nowhere to hide.
Two months later, the U.S. Navy attempted to launch the first American satellite. It was also the first nationally televised rocket launch. Upon completion of the countdown, the Vanguard rocket lifted less than a foot off the ground before the first stage, loaded to the gills with fuel, exploded. The rest of the rocket sank in slow motion toward the ground, embedding itself in the sand next to the launch platform like a bumed-out firecracker. It left an indelible image of America's opening bid in the space race.
Were they now actually thinking of strapping a man onto a rocket?
Unbeknownst to any of us, qualifications for prospective astronaut-pilots had been established by NASA, the newly founded civilian agency designated to lead America's efforts in space, which had received funding from Congress only after Sputnik. Although the United States did not yet have the spacecraft and other hardware necessary to send a man into space, NASA came up with a list of specific requirements to describe the kind of space pilots it was seeking.
It was believed that they needed to be in their physical prime while possessing a degree of maturity to handle difficult situations. Maximum age was set at forty. Maximum height was five feet, eleven inches, an arbitrary cutoff that eliminated any number of otherwise well-qualified pilots. The spacecraft already on the drawing board had its dimensions dictated by the diameter of the available boosters—the Redstone and Atlas missiles—that would launch it into space. Those dimensions were seventy-four inches wide at the base, and it was determined that once a pilot had on helmet and pressure suit and was strapped in for liftoff, anyone six feet or taller wouldn't be able to squeeze inside.
The weight limit was set at 180 pounds for two reasons. The first had to do with the finite (and limited) payload of the available boosters-the more a man weighed, the less room there would be for the equipment that would be necessary for a safe and successful mission. Just as important was the belief that anyone who met the height requirement but weighed more than 180 pounds would probably be overweight and therefore have a less than optimal metabolic and circulatory system to handle the stresses of prolonged weightlessness and rapid changes in temperature.
The search for candidates narrowed to the ranks of practicing test pilots—meaning pilots from the air force, navy, and marines, along with a handful of civilians. The theory was that test pilots had the instincts and training required to handle a complex spacecraft traveling at high speeds and high altitudes. It made sense that the same men who were testing our country's hottest jets should be in the driver's seat when it came time to launch a manned space vehicle.
Posted October 23, 2000
I had heard from a friend that Gordon Cooper had written a book and had mentioned in it that he had seen UFOs. I found that interesting because Colonel Cooper certainly doesn't fit the profile for being a nutcase. I was waiting for someone in the bookstore the other day and picked up this book to read while waiting. My friend was delayed, and I was glad. I read 200 pages of this book without getting up. It truly is riveting and engaging. The first-hand account of Cooper's Mercury mission is written with clarity of memory like it happened yesterday. The things which Cooper chooses to talk about are also very interesting. There was not one boring page in this book! Colonel Cooper's sensible account of the UFOs which he saw in the 1950s while stationed in Germany has made me rethink the possibility of their existence. Even the comments which he has about all of the other famous people of the time that he knew, from astronauts to presidents, are revealing but at the same time in good taste. If anyone thinks we are lacking heroes today, or if he or she thinks that our heroes are hitting or catching balls, that person should read this book. Cooper's telling of the way it was in those Mercury capsules, subjected to a regular temperature exceeding 100 degrees with G-forces great enough to make his watch stop working accurately, and having to manually re-enter the atmosphere when his entire electronics package shutdown, all to wind up landing within four miles of the aircraft carrier makes one realize that true American heroes are alive and well today. I hope that the remaining four of these seven men will have many more opportunities to be appreciated verbally by a nation that will forever be indebted to them for their bravery and willingness to risk their own lives to teach men to dream.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 8, 2000
Colonel Cooper is just one of those almost mythic heroes who makes you proud to be an American. His insider's tale of the real story of the early space program is very compelling because, at this stage of his remarkable life, he has no reason to be too polite or to hold back the sometimes unflattering truth. But this is no sour grapes recounting by a disgruntled space jockey. 'Gordo' has plenty of admiration and respect for the whole team who made our to-the-moon-by-the-end-of-the-decade dream/ adventure a reality, from his band of brothers fellow astronauts, to the NASA scientists, engineers, technicians and crews whose devotion to duty was at the heart of our success. He also, modestly and without embellishment, as is his style, tells about his early jet fighter and test piloting days that made him such a perfect candidate for astronaut training and how, when the chips were down and his Mercury capsule was going into a complete breakdown, that training and his cool professionalism saved the mission, and his life. There's much more to learn, about his post-NASA life, his thoughts about UFOs (he's seen some and is a believer that the government has long hidden the truth about extraterrestrial visitations to our planet) and going to Mars (he's already volunteered to be on that mission 'when he's as old as John Glenn'), among many other interesting facts and observations. It's a very easy and engaging read about one of our greatest heroes. Gordo is a real-life example of the kinds of iconic characters that used to be portrayed in the movies by the likes of Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and, nowadays, Harrison Ford. Buy this book, it's a keeper!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.