ERIE, Colo. (AP) — No one will ever take the Boulder out of astronaut and favorite son Scott Carpenter, but Erie’s Spirit of Flight Center is doing its best to pull the space hero a little to the east.
Later this month, the museum will hold a major event at the Erie Municipal Airport to raise money for The Scott Carpenter Project, in which a replica of his Mercury spacecraft and a life-size bronze statue of the man — the second American to orbit the Earth — will be made.
“What we’re trying to become is the destination of information about astronaut Scott Carpenter,” said Gordon Page, Spirit of Flight’s founder.
The 50th anniversary of Carpenter’s 1962 voyage in the Aurora 7 spacecraft was celebrated this past May, and Kris Stoever, Carpenter’s daughter, said her 87-year-old father is grateful that the local community — Boulder named a park after him — still embraces him.
“It’s fitting that Colorado is honoring my dad’s aviation and aerospace accomplishments with these monuments at the Spirit of Flight Center,” Stoever wrote in an email. “And he’s delighted by the museum’s interest in honoring his historic flight 50 years ago aboard Aurora 7.”
Dave Gianakos, a 747 pilot with Delta who builds models of spacecraft, aircraft, rockets and missiles — several of which are displayed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum — is undertaking the challenge of building a replica of Carpenter’s spacecraft based on molds of the capsule. (The original is on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.)
Gianakos said he has much respect for Carpenter and the other six Mercury astronauts who made the first flights into space in the early 1960s because they embodied the selfless and adventurous spirit of early space exploration.
“Our Mercury astronauts were the ones going up into space on rockets that were routinely blowing up,” he said. “Carpenter was a brave guy to get on the rocket like he did.”
Gianakos said he will use design drawings and old photos to build as authentic a replica of the Aurora 7, which measured 9 feet tall by 6 feet wide, as he can.
“It’s great to have something here locally that deals with saluting our space development past,” he said.
Page said the statue of Carpenter, which will show the astronaut holding his helmet at his side, will likely be cast and created by a local artist.
The museum is also honoring Carpenter’s origins as a Navy test pilot. It recently acquired from a “boneyard” in Tucson a disassembled A-4 Skyhawk — the same type of fighter Carpenter flew — and will put it back together over the next few months.
“He is one of the pioneers, not just in space, but in aviation,” Page said.
In concert with The Scott Carpenter Project, Spirit of Flight will assemble an aerospace exhibit that veers a bit from its primary focus on World War II-era aircraft. Page, who wants to buy a nearby hangar for the space age exhibits, will maintain in the new wing the hands-on spirit he has always made part and parcel of his center.
“I don’t want people to hear no, no, no, all the time,” he said, emphasizing that exhibits at Spirit of Flight are interactive. “Our goal is not to be the biggest but to be the most intimate, memory-creating experience in aviation history.”
The museum has a ways to go in its fundraising effort, having only collected $20,000 of the $200,000 it needs for The Scott Carpenter Project. Its fourth annual Spirit of Flight Day will be held on July 28 at the Erie Municipal Airport.
By John Aguilar, Daily Camera (© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)