12 Mar 1923 1
Hackensack, New Jersey 2
03 May 2007 1
Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California 3

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Walter Marty "Wally" Schirra, Jr. (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007)
Walter Marty "Wally" Schirra, Jr. (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007)
Walter Marty "Wally" Schirra, Jr. (March 12, 1923 – May 3, 2007) Pilot and Astronaut of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
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Personal Details

Full Name:
Walter Marty Schirra, Jr. 2
Full Name:
Walter M Schirra 1
Also known as:
Wally Schirra 2
12 Mar 1923 1
Hackensack, New Jersey 2
male 2
03 May 2007 1
Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, California 2
Cause: heart attack due to malignant mesothelioma 2
Last Residence: Rancho Santa Fe, CA 1
Pilot, Astronaut (Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs) 2
Social Security:
Card Issued: California 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-8621 1

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Walter Schirra, 1923-2007

Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, has died. He was 84 years old. 

Schirra's NASA career began with his selection as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts in 1959 and spans the period from Americas first tentative steps into space to the missions to the moon.

Schirra flew on the fifth Mercury flight in 1962, orbiting the Earth six times. He commanded Gemini 6A in 1965, a flight with Tom Stafford that had the historic distinction of being the first rendezvous of two manned, maneuverable spacecraft. Gemini 6A and Gemini 7 flew in formation for five hours, as close as one foot to one another. 

Schirra also commanded Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo flight. During that 11-day flight in Earth orbit in 1968, he and fellow crewmembers Walt Cunningham and Donn Eisele tested the Apollo systems and proved it was ready to take astronauts to the moon.

In what was a precursor of things to come, Apollo 7 transmitted the first television feed live into commercial networks from space during its 260-hour flight. 

"With the passing of Wally Schirra, we at NASA note with sorrow the loss of yet another of the pioneers of human spaceflight," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said. "As a Mercury astronaut, Wally was of a member of the first group of astronauts to be selected, often referred to as the Original Seven."
+ Administrator's Statment 

Fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter called Schirra a "dear friend, cherished comrade and a brother." 

"Despite our good natured competition for flights into space," said Carpenter, "Wally strove to bring a smile to everyone he met and its with a smile that I will forever fondly remember him."

President Bush also mourned Schirra's passing. "His ventures into space furthered our understanding of manned space flight and helped pave the way for mankind's first journey to the Moon," said the President. "Laura and I join Wally's family and friends and the NASA community in mourning the loss of an American hero."

Schirra retired from the Navy as a captain and from NASA in 1969 and became a commentator with CBS Television. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the space program made him a widely known national and international figure.

Image left: Schirra stands beside his T-38 aircraft. Photo credit: NASA. 

He complemented Walter Cronkite and the two became a powerful space-coverage team. Schirra worked for CBS from 1969 to 1975. He also engaged in a range of business activities and in 1979 formed his own consultant company, Schirra Enterprises.

Walter M. Schirra was born in Hackensack, N.J., on March 12, 1923. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, and from Naval Flight Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., in 1947. After service as a carrier-based fighter pilot and operations officer, he attended the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md. He flew fighters during the Korean War under an exchange program with the Air Force. 

Schirra was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts introduced to the public on April 1959. The seven were chosen from among 110 selected test pilots from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, after exhaustive physical and psychological examinations.

In 1961, the program moved to the newly established Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center) near Houston. Schirra was enthusiastic and outgoing and like others among the Mercury astronauts, he was not above an occasional practical joke. "Levity makes life a lot easier," he once told a Houston reporter. 

Schirra's Gemini flight with Stafford was something of an improvisation. They had been scheduled to rendezvous in orbit with an unmanned Agena to be launched 90 minutes before the Gemini liftoff. But six minutes after the Atlas-Agena left the pad it exploded, and the Gemini 6A launch was postponed.

Image right: Walter Schirra, his wife and family visit with President John F. Kennedy. Photo credit: NASA. 

Eventually it was decided to use Gemini 7 as a rendezvous target for Gemini 6A. Both were to be launched from Pad 19 at Cape Canaveral, so a record turnaround of the pad was necessary. Working around the clock, crews got the pad ready in just eight days after the Gemini 7 liftoff.

The Gemini 6A countdown reached zero on Dec. 12, 1965, and the rocket engines ignited – then shut down. The two astronauts had to wait almost half an hour atop the fueled rocket before getting out of the capsule. The problem turned out to be minor, the failure of an electrical connection.

Three days later, Gemini 6A was launched without a hitch. The mission proved the spacecraft could be readily maneuvered. It was an encouraging development in the race to reach the moon.

By the launch of Apollo 7 in October 1968 -- the first human flight in an Apollo spacecraft that had been much improved after the tragic Apollo 1 fire on the launch pad almost two years before -- the moon landing seemed to be coming within reach. The success of the flight proved that it was.

Accomplishments of the mission commanded by Schirra resulted in the next flight, Apollo 8, becoming the first to orbit the moon.

Image above: The Apollo 7 crew: NASA astronauts Donn Eisele, mission commander Walter Schirra and Walter Cunningham. Photo credit: NASA. 

Schirras military awards included the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the Philippines Legion of Honor.

He was awarded honorary doctorates by several institutions of higher learning.

He was active in a number of organizations and was a founding member and director of the Mercury Seven Foundation. He also was a director of the San Diego Aerospace Museum, a trustee of the Scripps Aquarium, and a member of the International Council of the Salk Institute. 

When Wally Schirra Said, "Go to Hell"

Wally Schirra once told Chris Kraft to go to hell. Remember the astronaut, who died this week at 84, for a lot of things, but put that particular bit of courage near the top of your list. Nobody, up until that moment, had ever told Kraft to go to hell, and the fact is, Schirra didn't tell him directly either. What he did do was tell Deke Slayton, the head of the astronaut corps, and he knew Slayton would tell Kraft, the director of all of the manned missions. Even when you're calling down your imprecation from the safe remove of the Apollo 7 command module high in Earth orbit, that took brass.

Apollo 7 was Schirra's third and last mission. Having joined the space agency as one of the original seven astronauts in 1959, the former Korean war combat pilot became the fifth American in space, orbiting the Earth in his tiny Mercury spacecraft in 1962. In 1965, he returned to space aboard Gemini 6 with co-pilot Tom Stafford, rendezvousing with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, already waiting in orbit in Gemini 7. After those two trips, there wasn't much that rattled Schirra, but agreeing to fly Apollo 7 at all still took some spine.

On January 27, 1967, just 21 months before Schirra's mission took off, the Apollo command module had killed three of his colleagues, when a spark ignited its pure oxygen atmosphere, immolating Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a lockdown rehearsal on the pad. Everyone at NASA already knew that the so-far unflown Apollo was a lemon. Not long before the three men died, they sat for a photo session with a model of the command module resting on a table in front of them it. In one of the outtakes never released to the press, they dropped the grins, bowed their heads and brought their hands together prayerfully. They inscribed the picture to Harrison Storms, the head of North American Aviation, the spacecraft's lead contractor: "Stormy," the inscription read, "this time we are not calling Houston!"

After the fire, it was left to Schirra, the commander of the three-man back-up crew that included space rookies Walt Cunningham and Donn Eisele, to help oversee the gutting and redesign of the ship. Schirra was a bear about the job, stalking the factory floor, poking his nose into whatever the engineers were doing and making it clear when he did not like what he saw. If he wasn't satisfied with the answers he got, he'd go up to the executive suites and buttonhole Storms himself. "You guys want to fix this ship or not?" he'd challenge. "If so let me see you down on the factory floor with the rest of us."

After all this, it was no surprise that when the spacecraft finally took off for its 11-day trip, Schirra would be just as much of a pit bull about how the ship would be flown. NASA scientists had stuffed the flight plan with experiments and astronomical observations, but Schirra didn't want any part of them. This was an engineering mission, as the test pilots liked to call it, meaning that it was a shakedown flight for the ship itself, not a working trip for the men in lab coats.

Whenever an experiment crowded an engineering exercise, he'd jettison the experiment. When a prime-time broadcast was scheduled for shortly before the crew was to execute a tricky rendezvous, he scrubbed the TV show. "No TV until after the rendezvous," he pronounced. The ground objected but Schirra held firm. "TV will be delayed without any further discussion."

Things got more contentious still when all three men developed head colds, something that can be uncomfortable enough on Earth and is exponentially worse in the unfamiliar pressure of a sealed spacecraft. Reporters noticed the sparring between mission control and the ship and began writing about the "snappishness" of the astronauts. The Russian press weighed in too, pointing out the crew's "increased irritation due to the monotony of the spaceflight and the imperfect design of the systems for controlling the vital functions of the spacemen."

Finally, Kraft broke all protocol and proposed to speak to Schirra directly. Slayton offered to do it himself, figuring that as one astronaut to another he could communicate more candidly. Slayton did just that and later reported back to Kraft.

"I told him that the whole world was following this flight and that he and his crew were not coming across well," Slayton said. "I told him he was trained to do a job and that he'd better get busy doing it."

"And?" Kraft asked.

"And he told me to go to hell."

As Slayton must have known, however, doing his job was precisely what Schirra was engaged in for the entire 11 days aloft. Astronauts were pilots first and showmen second. And while the silver flight suits and the smiling press events and the ticker-tape parades belied that, they were hired for their unique understanding of the machines they flew and their hardheaded ability to coax the most from them. That was Schirra's gift. And if flipping off his boss was necessary to get his work done, well, he was happy to do that too. Kraft, 83, wound up respecting Schirra for that act of defiance. Schirra was happy to get that nod. But the fact was, the pilot in him really didn't need it.

Walter M. Schirra Jr., Astronaut, Dies at 84


Walter M. Schirra Jr., one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and the only astronaut to fly in all three of NASA’s earliest manned space programs — Mercury, Gemini and Apollo — died yesterday in San Diego. He was 84 and lived in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

His death, at a hospital in La Jolla, was caused by a heart attack, said Ruth Chandler Varonfakis, a family friend and spokeswoman for the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Captain Schirra, a Navy combat pilot in the Korean War and later a test pilot, became the fifth American in space and the third American to orbit the earth when he lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the Sigma 7 Mercury craft in October 1962.

He later took part in the first rendezvous between two spacecraft, in December 1965, flying with Thomas P. Stafford, the mission pilot, when their Gemini 6 craft came within inches of Gemini 7, carrying Frank Borman and James A. Lovell Jr., and orbited alongside it.

On his final mission, in October 1968, Captain Schirra commanded Apollo 7, the first manned mission in the Apollo program, the quest to land men on the moon. The Apollo 7 crew, which also included Donn F. Eisele and Walter Cunningham, flew for 163 orbits and provided the first televised pictures from an American spacecraft.

The mission is also remembered for the head colds the three astronauts caught during their almost 11 days in space. They took decongestants and returned without bursting their eardrums, as NASA had feared might happen.

Captain Schirra’s death leaves former Senator John Glennand M. Scott Carpenter as the remaining survivors of the original Mercury astronauts, figures celebrated for their courage and, in the eyes of many, for their bravado in forging a new American frontier amid the cold war competition with the Soviet Union.

These were the men profiled by Tom Wolfe in “The Right Stuff” and in the 1983 movie adaptation of the book in which Captain Schirra was portrayed by Lance Henriksen.

But for Captain Schirra, who logged more than 295 hours in space, the missions were hardly all glamour.

“Mostly it’s lousy out there,” he told The Associated Press in 1981. “It’s a hostile environment, and it’s trying to kill you. The outside temperature goes from a minus 450 degrees to a plus 300 degrees. You sit in a flying Thermos bottle.”

Walter Marty Schirra Jr., a native of Hackensack, N.J., came from a family of fliers. His father, an officer in the Army Signal Corps, flew bombing and reconnaissance missions over Germany in World War I and later performed stunts in a bi-plane at county fairs in New Jersey. His wife, Florence, sometimes stood on the wing.

Walter Jr. first took a plane’s controls at age 13, handed over by his father at 3,000 feet above Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Captain Schirra graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1945 and became a naval aviator three years later. He flew 90 missions in the Korean War, mainly low-level bombing and ground-strafing operations, and downed a Russian MIG fighter. He later helped develop the Sidewinder air-to-air missile as a Navy test pilot.

As he told it in “The Real Space Cowboys” (Apogee Books, 2005), written with Ed Buckbee, his goal was to be “a hot shot test pilot, not just a scarf and goggles type, but one who could use his engineering confidence to work on systems and make the best airplane, ever.”

“I didn’t really volunteer for Project Mercury,” he said, but he became a candidate after being ordered to Washington to hear a presentation. “We were listening to a pair of engineers and a psychologist describing the feeling when you’re on top of a rocket in a capsule and going around the world,” he remembered. “I was immediately looking for the door, and they said, ‘Not to worry, we’ll send a chimpanzee first!’ There’s no way a test pilot would volunteer for something like that.”

On April 9, 1959, he was named a Mercury astronaut, together with Mr. Glenn, Mr. Carpenter, Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, L. Gordon Cooper Jr. and Donald K. Slayton.

Captain Schirra specialized in developing life-support systems for the Mercury astronauts, his tasks including testing their pressurized suits. On Oct. 3, 1962, he piloted the capsule Sigma 7 on a six-orbit mission lasting a bit more than nine hours. The third orbital flight by an American, it showed that an astronaut could manage the limited amounts of electricity and maneuvering fuel needed for longer, more complex flights.

Captain Schirra later helped develop the Gemini program, and on Dec. 12, 1965, he and the pilot, Thomas Stafford, were on the launching pad in their Gemini 6 spacecraft atop a Titan II booster rocket when it ignited, then shut down. Captain Schirra had to make an immediate decision on whether to activate controls to eject the two astronauts, but he chose to remain in the craft. Technicians found that the booster was not about to explode; the problem was a loose electrical plug.

Three days later, the two astronauts lifted off, and in less than six hours they completed their nondocking rendezvous with Gemini 7 some 170 miles above the Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

Commanding Apollo 7, which lifted off on Oct. 11, 1968, Captain Schirra and two other astronauts tested systems that had been redesigned after the January 1967 Apollo 1 launching pad fire that killed Mr. Grissom and his fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Captain Schirra retired from the Navy and left NASA in July 1969 to become president of Regency Investors, a financial company based in Denver. He was involved in various business enterprises after that. He is survived by his wife, Josephine; a son, Walter III, and a daughter, Suzanne.

In 1984, Captain Schirra took part in founding the Mercury Seven Foundation, which creates college scholarships for science and engineering students. On Aug. 1, 1998, he spoke at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston at a ceremony honoring Alan Shepard, the first American in space, who died at 74 the previous month.

Captain Schirra told the gathering, “The brotherhood we have will endure forever.”

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