Thursday, May 03, 2007

And Then There Were Two

Sad news today: Wally Schirra is dead of a heart attack today, age 84.

Only two of our original seven Mercury astronauts are left alive: John Glenn, 86, and Scott Carpenter, 82. Wouldn't it be somewhat ironic if Glenn, the oldest by far of the original seven, would also be the longest-lived?

Grissom was the first to go, in his prime, at the relatively young age of 41. He was only 33 when selected. Could anyone even qualify today, at age 33? It was a different world, then, and many of the most qualified test pilots either didn't meet NASA's requirements (Yeager) or just didn't want the job (Crossfield). Grissom was also the only one of the seven so far not to die of natural causes.

Deke Slayton was next, in 1993, of a brain tumor. Then Alan Shepard died in 1998 of leukemia. Gordo Cooper, one of the more colorful and interesting characters in the Mercury story, died of Parkinson's in 2004. And now, Wally.

Which is inevitable, of course. Time catches up to everyone, eventually. But it's still sad, and still diminishes us, when living minds who witnessed such great things are no longer with us. But we who are left behind can remember, and teach our children to remember.

Because hereoes never really die, as long as their stories are freshly re-told.

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