Oklahoma astronaut remembered

Saturday, October 16th 2004, 12:04 pm
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ One of NASA's first astronauts, Oklahoma native L. Gordon Cooper Jr., was remembered at the Johnson Space Center as ``not too bad of a water skier, not too bad of a pilot, but a heck of a good astronaut.''

Cooper died of natural causes Oct. 4 at his home in Ventura, Calif. He was 77.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, former astronaut John Glenn and the two other surviving Mercury astronauts remembered Cooper on Friday with humorous stories and memories of his accomplishments.

Glenn told how Cooper once returned from a fishing trip near Cape Canaveral. He told his fellow astronauts how he saw the largest bullfrogs he had ever seen while wading waist deep in a pond for 45 minutes.

Someone informed Cooper ``they weren't frogs, but instead alligators,'' Glenn said, adding that Cooper never fished there again.

After a video tribute to Cooper, a tree was planted in honor of Cooper at a memorial tree grove. His tree isn't far from that of fellow Mercury astronaut Virgil ``Gus'' Grissom, who died in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire.

``Time has diminished our numbers. We are no longer seven. We are three,'' said Cmdr. Scott Carpenter, another original Mercury astronaut.

Carpenter, Glenn and Walter M. Schirra are the last living Mercury astronauts.

Cooper, born March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, Okla., joined the Marines during World War II and transferred to the Air Force in 1949. He earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1956.

He then flew numerous flights as a test pilot in the Flight Test Division at Edwards Air Force Base near Los Angeles. Cooper was selected as a Mercury astronaut in 1959.