Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pioneering Astronaut Wally Schirra Passes...

Mourning the passing of a true Hero and Gentleman -- Wally Schirra

Mark Wednesday, May 2, 2007 as the sad day when a true American Pioneer and Hero passed on; that's the day Walter M. "Wally" Schirra, Jr. died.

For those of us old enough to remember the breathless days of the 1960s, when through the inspiration of President John F. Kennedy, the United States embarked on a daring, dangerous quest to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth.

Wally in 1962 became the third American to circle the Earth, piloting his Mercury through six orbits during a flight that lasted more than nine hours. And it was not to be his last trip into space, a fate that befell other Mercury 7 astronauts. In the second phase of the race to the "moonandback", the Gemini Program, Wally commanded Gemini 6 on a lengthy flight in
December 1965 that resulted in the groundbreaking first rendezvous between two space vehicles in-flight. And three years later, Wally commanded Apollo 7 which in October 1968 advanced the Apollo Program toward its ultimate achievement in July 1969 -- the Earth-uniting landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon.

Among the many distinct pleasures of my life was the opportunity to meet, break bread with and share a drink with Wally when he attended a Bombardier Air Safety Standdown in Wichita several years ago. The photo I shot of Wally, with Gene Cernan and Bob Hoover, among others, is one of my prized shots. And when I told him how much my mother was a fan of his, he smilingly offered to send along his best to her. She thought he was great when he did a television commercial for a cold remedy he took during the illness-plagued Apollo 7 mission.

Wally's passing leaves only John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, and Scott Carpenter, as survivors of the original Mercury 7.

Wally was a decorated combat veteran, a retired Navy Captain, a Naval Academy grad, a tremendous pilot, pioneering astronaut, but most of all, a true human being. We shall not see his kind pass this way, again. Our condolences to his family and friends, including another hero astronaut it's been my pleasure to get to know, Capt. Gene Cernan.

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