Walter Schirra – the only Man to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo

Walter Schirra Jr. in Mercury pressure suit with model of Mercury capsule behind him

Walter M. Schirra Jr. in Mercury pressure suit with model of Mercury capsule behind him

On March 12, 1923American naval officer and aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and astronaut Walter MartyWally” Schirra was born. Schirra was one of the original seven astronauts chosen for Project Mercury, United States first effort to put humans in space. He flew the six-orbit, nine-hour Mercury-Atlas 8 mission on October 3, 1962, becoming the fifth American, and the ninth human, to ride a rocket into space. He was the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

Walter Schirra was the son of Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Walter M. Schirra who already flew bombing and reconnaissance missions over Germany during the First World War. Schirra’s mother Florence Schirra back then performed wing walking stunts. Walter Schirra joined the Newark College of Engineering and was later appointed to the United States Naval Academy. In 1945, Schirra received his bachelor’s degree.

After his graduation, Walter Schirra briefly served aboard the large battlecruiser USS Alaska and trained as a Naval Aviator at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida after World War II had ended. In 1948 he joined the Fighter Squadron 71. Schirra was stationed in South Korea upon the outbreak of the Korean war. He flew 90 combat missions between 1951 and 1952, mostly in F-84 Thunderjet. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster for his service in Korea. Schirra then worked as a test pilot, and later also became a flight instructor and carrier based aviator.

Walter Schirra was chosen for the first U.S. manned space flight program ‘Project Mercury‘ in 1959. His duty was the development of environmental controls or life-support systems that would ensure the safety and comfort of the astronaut within the spacecraft during the mission. His tasks also included the testing and improvement of the pressurized suit worn by the astronauts. Schirra became the fifth American in Space when he piloted the Mercury-Atlas 8 on a orbit mission that lasted 9 hours. In 1965, Walter Schirra became Command Pilot of Gemini 6A, with Pilot Tom Stafford. Schirra managed to successfully perform the first rendezvous with Gemini 7 containing astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell, station-keeping his craft to distances as close as 30 cm.

Schirra was declared to command a three-man Apollo crew with Donn F. Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham in 1966. The goal was to perform the  second manned flight test of the Apollo Command/Service Module, however, the mission was soon considered unnessesarry. Schirra’s crew was then announced Grissom’s backup. In 1967, Grissom and his crew were killed in a cabin fire during a ground test of Apollo 1 and Schirra’s crew was promoted to prime crew of the first manned flight onboard Apollo 7. The mission was launched in 1968 and Walter Schirra became the first person to fly in space three times. He and his crew spent eleven days in Earth orbit and provided the first live television pictures publicly broadcasted from inside a manned spacecraft, for which Schirra received an Emmy Award. After the flight, Walter Schirra retired, leaving the NASA Astronaut Corps on July 1, 1969.

At yovisto, you may enjoy the video Time of Apollo.

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