Astronaut Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth and first person to explore both the heights of space and depths of the ocean, died today after a stroke at age 88. Along with John Glenn, who flew three months before him, Carpenter was one of the last two surviving original Mercury 7 astronauts for the fledgling US space program. At a time when astronauts achieved fame on par with rock stars, folks across the country sat glued to their TV screens, anxiously awaiting the outcome of Carpenter's 1962 ride. He overshot his landing by 288 miles, giving NASA and the nation an hour-long scare that he might not have made it back alive.
The fallout from that missed landing was a factor that kept NASA from launching Carpenter into space again. So he went from astronaut to "aquanaut" and lived at length on the sea floor—the only man to ever formally explore the two frontiers. In 1965, he spent 30 days under the ocean off the coast of California as part of the Navy's SeaLab II program. "Curiosity is a thread that goes through all of my activity," he told a NASA historian in 1999. "Satisfying curiosity ranks No. 2 in my book behind conquering a fear." (Read more Scott Carpenter stories.)