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This swashbuckling Shawnee native epitomized in real life the daredevil bravado of the classic American war hero or sports star. His father, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, had his son up in a Curtiss-Robin monoplane at age five, flying one himself at eight, and flying solo at 12. Due to the close-knit nature of the era’s aviation community, and Oklahoma’s prominence in that community, he met Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and other great aviators while working at Shawnee’s Regan Airport.
Cooper joined the marines as teenager during World War II, then transferred to the air force in 1949. For the next decade, he gained renown as one of America’s greatest pilots. He flew F-84 and F-86 fighter bombers and test flew other Air Force jets. In 1959, NASA chose him as the youngest of its original seven Mercury astronauts to challenge the Soviet Union in the dramatic Space Race.
Cooper’s legend grew when he won command of the final and longest Mercury flight, Faith 7, in May 1963. Over vocal opposition, he himself named the craft to symbolize “my trust in God, my country, and my teammates.”
Late in the mission, his ship’s automatic controls failed prior to reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Cool and steady under the greatest possible pressure, he parlayed his wrist watch, scrawled mathematical calculations on Faith 7’s window, and the formation of the stars to a successful, fully manual return. His actions revolutionized NASA’s flight planning, emphasizing more strongly the human element.
Two years later, Cooper commanded Gemini 5, the longest space flight in history to that point. It confirmed the ability of astronauts to survive long enough in space for a round trip to the Moon and back.
His propensity for spectacular derring-do likely contributed to his less flamboyant superiors’ failing to grant him further assignments in space. These feats included streaking through the Cape Canaveral rocket launch center in a fighter jet only a few yards off the ground, and entering the 24 Hours of Daytona sports car race while training as the backup crew commander for the Apollo 10 space mission.
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
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