Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Gordon Cooper, R.I.P.

From the Associated Press:

VENTURA, Calif. - Gordon Cooper, one of the original Mercury astronauts who pioneered human space exploration, has died. He was 77.

Cooper died Monday at his home in Ventura, NASA officials said in a statement.

"As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper was one of the faces of America's fledgling space program," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "He truly portrayed the right stuff, and he helped gain the backing and enthusiasm of the American public, so critical for the spirit of exploration. My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's family during this difficult time."

Cooper piloted the final flight of the Mercury program, the United States' first manned spaceflight program that had the primary goal of putting a man in orbit around Earth.

When we think of Gordon Cooper in the fictional universes of Man's creation, the image that comes to mind is his rendition in Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" and embodied in the movie version of the book (where he was portrayed by Dennis Quaid).

But he made his mark in the TV Universe as well. Aside from several documentaries about the Mercury program, he also appeared in a TV Movie and in an episode of 'CHiPs' as himself.

from the IMDb:

Rocket's Red Glare [2000]
A troubled 17-year-old restores a Mercury Redstone rocket as a science project with the help of his ex-astronaut grandfather. When a NASA emergency leaves a space shuttle and its crew in danger, Todd's rocket is the only one ready for immediate launch.

Gordon Cooper was one of several people associated with NASA who appeared as themselves in this production.

From the 'CHiPs Online website:

Season 6, Episode 15
Journey to a Spacecraft
Original Airdate: 6-Feb-1983
Plot: Ponch and Bobby stop by a sick kid's house who says he heard people planning to steal a dog. The kid needs a liver transplant and has less than a month to live.

But the sick kid is running away from home. After getting a ride with a trucker friend, he tries to get another ride from another trucker friend but can't contact him. When he moves on, he leaves his medicine behind. Ponch, Bobby, and Bruce go looking for the kid while, the kid and his CB friend head south on a motorcycle. When the "chopper" gets a flat, he contacts another CB friend.

At the kid's house, Ponch, Bobby, and Bruce figure out where he's headed...the shuttle landing. As they head out, they find out that someone died and a donor liver is available. They have to get him to the hospital in just a few hours.
At the shuttle landing, Ponch, Bobby, and Bruce are looking for the kid with the help of the NASA security chief.

Later, Ponch asks for the help of Col. Gordon Cooper and has him ask the kid to come meet him at the press building. After he meets Col. Cooper, Ponch carries him off to a helicopter so he can go to the hospital for his transplant.

Some people might shrug off such an appearance; as if it doesn't have the cache like Buzz Aldrin appearing on 'The Simpsons' or John Glenn on 'Frasier'. But in the TV Universe, all components - the TV series, the TV movies, the commercials etc - have equal value.

And the appearance of "Gordo" on 'CHiPs' best exemplified how those early explorers of space were (and still are!) the true heroes for kids to admire. Not the high-priced athletes who are to be found more often joining the League of Themselves on sitcoms today.


No comments: