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Astronaut Wally Schirra Crosses Final Frontier

Schirra, who died Thursday, was one of the pioneers of space travel and the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.
"We were interested in reading these things and obviously we had intentions of following something like this in our lifetimes," he told reporters. "I will readily admit that we didn't think of this, but in flying aircraft, we have been striving to get higher and higher. … As far as going higher, this is just one more step."

When asked about his religious faith, Schirra said that he was an active member of an Episcopal Church. "I think I should like to dwell more on faith in what we call the machine age," he added. "We have faith in the Space Age."

That faith shone through when he tried to name the Apollo 7 mission "The Phoenix," in memory of the crew that perished in the Apollo 1 fire.

After retiring from NASA, Schirra authored and co-authored books, including The Real Space Cowboys. He supported several civic organizations and corporate boards, joined newscaster Walter Cronkite to provide space commentary, and did commercials for Tang, the powdered orange drink astronauts sipped in space.

He also did commercials for Actifed after he and other astronauts popped decongestants to make sure their eardrums didn't burst as they returned from orbit while suffering from common colds.

One legendary story about Schirra's spaceflight comes from his response to someone from command and control asking him if he was a turtle. As a member of a fighter pilot's club, Schirra was obliged to answer "You bet your sweet a-- I am." Knowing his words were broadcast, Schirra switched a microphone off and answered properly before letting the world hear "Roger." Later, when President John F. Kennedy asked him the same question in person, Schirra said he paused before giving the true, longer version response.

Schirra received several military and civilian honors. He loved skiing, hunting, fishing, and yachting. In addition to occasional spaceship travel, the Mercury Seven member was known to travel by horseback from time to time.

Last month, he expressed fondness for his home planet, telling an Associated Press reporter that he had left three times and had found nowhere else to go. He spoke during interviews about the dust clouds he saw over India and China in the first decade of space travel and worried about pollution. He also talked about seeing the world as one home, rather than a globe divided by borders. One month before crossing his own final frontier, he said in an AP interview: "Please take care of Spaceship Earth."

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer