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Space Science

Wally Schirra Dead at 84 88

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the rare-breed-of-heroes dept.
UglyTool writes "Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to have flown on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, died of a heart attack at a hospital in San Diego. Wallyschirra.com has much more on the man, his life, and his contributions to the American Space Program."
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Wally Schirra Dead at 84

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    He's the type of guy that a woman astronaught would drive across 5 states wearing an adult diaper to make her own.

    Female astronaughts hardly ever do that for me anymore.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Female astronaughts hardly ever do that for me anymore.

      Are Female Astronaughts naughty or was that simply just a misspelling? ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ubrgeek (679399)
      Actually, he probably was in his younger days. Had the honor of meeting him once when I was a reporter. This was around 10 years ago and you wouldn't believe the number of women flocking around him to hear his stories ...
    • by eviloverlordx (99809) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:08PM (#18989725)
      Or even an 'Astronaut'.

      We've definitely gone from the days when our astronauts were national heroes, and space flights were major news items, to relatively anonymous folks risking their lives to put the next communications satellite in orbit for our corporate masters. Honestly, does anyone here know the name of a current astronaut off the top of their head without doing a search? We need a mission to Mars or something similar sooner rather than later.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Chosen Reject (842143)
        We've definitely gone from the days when our pilots were national heroes, and trans-oceanic flights were major news items, to relatively anonymous folks risking their lives to put the next group of people in another country for our own entertainment. Honestly, does anyone here know the name of a current pilot who's flown across the Atlantic off the top of their head without doing a search? We need a mission around the globe or something similar sooner rather than later.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by VWJedi (972839)
          Interesting parallel, but a bit misleading. Certainly the novelty has worn off of orbital spaceflight in a similar way to the novelty of transoceanic flights in the early 20th century, but some major distinctions remain:
          • Commercial viation has reached a much greater level of safety than spaceflight.
          • The number of commercial pilots is great enough that you probably have met one even if you didn't know it (a neighbor or a friend of a friend). The number of astronauts (and where they tend to live) means th
          • by Burdell (228580)
            I was in line at the grocery store behind an astronaut (Jan Davis), but I'm in Huntsville, AL (another non-average location).
            • by VWJedi (972839)

              I was in line at the grocery store behind an astronaut (Jan Davis), but I'm in Huntsville, AL (another non-average location).

              OK, I forgot Huntsville. But the point is, commercial pilots are a bit more evenly distributed throughout the world. I'm sure there are more near me, about an hour's drive north of Chicago's O'Hare Airport, than there are in the middle of Kansas, several hours from a major airport. And I'd the number of astronauts in all of the EU is fewer than the number in Houston.

        • by sabre86 (730704)
          Yes. Dick Rutan.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        We've definitely gone from the days when our astronauts were national heroes, and space flights were major news items, to relatively anonymous folks risking their lives to put the next communications satellite in orbit for our corporate masters.

        I hate to put facts up against your rant - but commercial flights on the Shuttle ended back in the 1980's after the loss of Challenger.

        Honestly, does anyone here know the name of a current astronaut off the top of their head without doing a search?

        S

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kamapuaa (555446)
        That you knew the astronaut's names was purely a matter of how it was marketed. The astronauts didn't design the rockets, and they weren't the ones making decisions. They were interchangeable, and any one of them (or all of them), could easily have been replaced, even at the last minute.

        You bought into the propaganda, but don't be upset that other people aren't quite so enthusiastic about self-deception.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      >> astronaught would drive across 5 states wearing an adult diaper

      I hear she's doing endorsements for Ass-Go-Nought brand adult diapers.
    • Astronauts Gone Wild

      Just consider the marketing potential...
    • by real gumby (11516)

      astronaughts hardly ever do that for me anymore.
      How could they? They're astronothing!
  • The Treating the Dead [slashdot.org] article just popped into my head upod reading this, and I though to myself: I wonder if those ideas could have been applied here to help save him.

    RIP, Wally.

      - Eddie

  • In the future (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SAN1701 (537455) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:15PM (#18989825)
    Altough he didn't walked in the moon in his Apollo mission, his death made me think if there will be a time when, as before, no living person had actually went to some other world. With no moon mission schedulled by any nation capable of it, and the ageing of Apollo astronauts (it's almost 4 decades since the landings after all), it seems possible that in some point in the future we will have no moon walkers among us.

    Kind of sad. Reminds me that, for some decades, civilians (rich civilians, of course), could cross the north atlantic in less than for hours, and now, well, only the military can do it that fast.
    • by Kanuck (1096475)
      Eh, you never know - those private space startups could always get there someday. At some points they seem to be doing better than NASA themselves. :\
      • and there'd be no one to stop them from riding around on the lunar rover...if i were rich, i'd go for that. have to take my own battery tho.
    • by alispguru (72689) <bane@gs[ ]om ['t.c' in gap]> on Friday May 04, 2007 @01:56PM (#18991745) Journal
      The year 2009 will be the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing.

      It will also be the 37th anniversary of the last moon landing.

      Dammit.

      If everything goes according to current NASA plans, they'll be back in 2019.

      2019!
    • by solevita (967690)

      Kind of sad. Reminds me that, for some decades, civilians (rich civilians, of course), could cross the north atlantic in less than for hours, and now, well, only the military can do it that fast.

      I hate this assertion; I hear it all the time and I always think it's a stupid one.

      People like yourself judge the apparent success of technology by it's ability to create a gulf between the haves and the have-nots. How sad. Now the price of air travel is steadily dropping; this is a good use of technology. Of cours

      • by SAN1701 (537455)
        Gee, how much prejudice can come from a single post...

        Weel, what you say is a false dilemma, isn't it? Sure it's way more important to have air travel for the masses, but, as an engineer, I think it's also important to have tech challenges like the Concorde and the Apollo program. Research in both programs brought advances in many areas that makes current low-fare transatlantic trips possible. From your post, it seems that some decades ago you would be arguing against planes (elite toys) and advocating
        • by 19061969 (939279)
          Quoth: "I think it's also important to have tech challenges like the Concorde and the Apollo program." But the accountants who run everything have near vision - they cannot see beyond the next budget returns, ie, long term investment advancing not just the company but the entire country (bear in mind the close relationship between some companies and government) Such things gave countries like the USA the technological lead and (I would argue) helped improve the economy (by other countries wanting buying thi
    • Reminds me that, for some decades, civilians (rich civilians, of course), could cross the north atlantic in less than for hours, and now, well, only the military can do it that fast.

      So? Civilians (of any station) could only do it because it was heavily subsidized by a goverment.
    • by deblau (68023)

      it seems possible that in some point in the future we will have no moon walkers among us.
      It will never happen. See here [osu.edu]. Also, this [somethingawful.com].
    • by real gumby (11516)

      Kind of sad. Reminds me that, for some decades, civilians ...could cross the north atlantic in less than for hours, and now, well, only the military can do it that fast.
      Well of course. They don't have to go through the pointless pseudosecurity the way the rest of us do.
    • by pipingguy (566974) *
      it seems possible that in some point in the future we will have no moon walkers among us.

      Hey, Michael Jackson is only about 45, and by the time he, uh, "shuffles off this mortal coil" the Chinese and/or Indians should have a Moon (or Mars) shot completed or at least underway in order to boost national pride.
  • by Gription (1006467) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:16PM (#18989835)
    Wally excelled in quite a different era. It was a time where men were creating a new type of future where anything was possible with the application of human ingenuity and effort. He was a shining example of this stage of history.

    We now seem to see a future where human ingenuity is being bent to restrict mankind.

    Wally, we need more like you. You will be missed.
    • by gvc (167165) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:37PM (#18990167)
      Let's not get too nostalgic. The whole point of the space race was as a proxy for the Americans and Soviets to one-up each other in their nuclear delivery capacity. The cold war gave us NASA and microelectronics while WWII gave us the Manhattan project and computers. War, not any sort of benign application of human ingenuity and effort.


      Once Apollo 11 landed on the moon, interest in the space program quickly faded. Even Apollo 13 rekindled it only for the duration of the mission. While spinoff benefits of the program were manifold, these were unintentional. It was a publicity stunt, plain and simple.

      • by dpilot (134227) on Friday May 04, 2007 @01:17PM (#18990945) Homepage Journal
        I'll give you a different, and possibly Slashdottian perspective on the "War drives Progress" model you proposed.

        The reality is that Our Corporate Overlords don't like true Progress, of the disruptive sort. They like progress, (with the lower-case "p") of the incremental sort, the kind that keeps their guaranteed spot on top, and keeps them making money the same way they made it last year, only more of it. I would propose that most of the time, they're doing their very best to kill disruptive change, or at least slow it to the point where it is no longer disruptive. Microsoft once mentioned "managing the pace of change in the industry," which I would imply to mean managing the pace of change so they can retain their "leadership" role. Even so, every now and then a disruptive innovation like the Internet manages to sneak through. One might argue that now Corporate America is doing everything in it's power to kill the disruptive basics of the Internet, too.

        War changes this.

        Real War, that is. War like WWII, not war like Viet Nam or Iraq. Real war threatens the very existence of Our Corporate Overlords, because if we lose, they're toast. So when real War happens, the brakes on disruptive innovation are removed, because survival is at stake. As long as you win, you have a chance of retaining your spot on top, and will most likely be alive. If you lose, both are in doubt.
        • by maxume (22995)
          Wow. The people you talk about controlling you simply aren't that competent.
          • by dpilot (134227)
            Doesn't take competence to do what I talked about. Only greed and power. Maybe "they" don't gracefully "permit" disruptive advance in time of total war, either. Maybe this aspect of the comfy partnership between government and business breaks down, and it's the government permitting disruption of business models, so that they can keep their positions.
            • by maxume (22995)
              It takes competence to do it while not having more than this one guy on slashdot pointing and laughing.
              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by dpilot (134227)
                Laugh and point all you want.

                In the runup to the war in Iraq, it was obvious to me the whole time that we were going to war because the administration had a hard-on for Saddam. The reasons looked faked and trumped up from the start, as far as I was concerned.

                Nor was I the only one not fooled. There were plenty of people taken in. We weren't laughing, because it was war, and people were going to die. But it wouldn't have mattered had we laughed or not, or whether any number of us read Slashdot or not. Nor do
                • by maxume (22995)
                  Pointing and laughing was a euphemism for you 'knowing what's really going on'. Sorry I wasn't more literal.

                  Bill Clinton offers an interesting counter example to your rambling. As far as I can tell, he genuinely wants to make the world a better place.
                  • by dpilot (134227)
                    I wasn't pretending to say that lust for power was universal, just terribly common. I think one of Clinton's best near-achievements went pretty much unrecognized, and it was undone before completed. (It also wasn't his alone, but it couldn't have been done without his concurrence and cooperation.) The economy had very nearly reached the proverbial "soft landing" right before the dot-com revolution took off. The soft landing was discarded, and has never been heard from since.
      • by Gription (1006467) on Friday May 04, 2007 @01:33PM (#18991245)
        In the 50s 60s and 70s we all believed that it was possible to work and innovate to create a world where the future was bright and full of possibility. We knew our world was full of atrocities and we lived under the cloud of Mutually Assured Destruction, but we really believed that it was possible to beat those enemies and if we created enough we could make a world where 'it all would be better'.

        I don't see that innovation and 'pushing towards the future' gives the average man the same vision of hope anymore. I see two groups that look towards the future with bright eyes. Techies that can't wait for the computers that the future will bring and people who believe that tomorrow will bring an ecologically sound and energy secure future (without a real struggle). The best a lot of us are hoping for is a way to innovate so as to avoid disaster. We are missing the part where we think that we might go beyond a possible disaster into a utopian future.

        I think that we can agree that most people don't think that we are going to solve our non political struggles without a painful struggle and sacrifice. We realize that what was our 'manifest destiny' of progress is destroying the world we live in and charging into the future doesn't have that child-like glee anymore.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by OldeTimeGeek (725417)
          Agreed.

          We kids knew about the Cold War and all that, but the threat was never any near as real to us as the reality of the pictures of the moon that flashed back during the Ranger program, or the grainy videos we saw on our TV during the Gemini and Apollo missions. We were actually going into outer space and just about every one of us thought we could go there too.

          Maybe I'm getting old and a bit cynical, but I just don't see that spark in children today. Maybe it's that we were blissfully naive when I was a

      • by hellfire (86129)
        I see your point in terms of the government, NASA and the whole space race.

        But are talking about Wally here, not NASA. I think the grandparent has every right to be as nostalgic as they want.

        There are plenty of people at NASA, then and now, doing things for NASA because it's science and exploration, not because the government wants to build bigger bombs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        Let's not get too nostalgic. The whole point of the space race was as a proxy for the Americans and Soviets to one-up each other in their nuclear delivery capacity.

        This is a common meme - but there isn't a shred of truth in it. The technologies for (notionally) peaceful boosters and ICBM's diverged right from the start of the space race - and never rejoined. The race was a proxy for technological prowess, granted, but it has little directly to do with nuclear delivery.

        • Yes, one hardly needed a rocket the size of a Saturn V (or the Russian N-1) in order to deliver nukes to the other side of the globe...
      • by tumbaumba (547886)
        > It was a publicity stunt, plain and simple.

        It was and it wasn't, for many reasons not the least one been the fact that such cynical views of the society were not as prevalent as they are now. Perhaps it is some information overload. We as a society became numb to scientific and engineering advances like space flight. Even a trip to Mars will be a less of en event than first man in space or sputnik was.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We now seem to see a future where human ingenuity is being bent to restrict mankind.

      Really? You think that somehow human ingenuity was more noble at that time? I guess you missed the ingenuity of the War in Vietnam, the Pol Pot genocides, Mao's great leap forward, etc., that were going on at the same time. How many people did the space program free and make a better life for during Shira's time? How many poor did it feed? The piece of technology that gave the most people freedom in the 1960s and 1970s in the US was television, not rockets. It was the medium that the civil rights dem

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'm posting this anonymously for soon to be obvious reasons. Wally did not die from a heart attack. He died from an rare form of asbestos poisoning. I don't know why everyone is talking about "natural causes" or Heart attacks but he died from what he was exposed to for his entire Navy and NASA carreer's.

      I've known Wally for many years and he would not hold this against the Military or NASA but to flat out lie about it would offend him. Asbestos was the best that they had to keep people alive. Everyone
  • by L. VeGas (580015) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:23PM (#18989955) Homepage Journal
    I told you that being an astronaut is dangerous.
  • He was a great man and did a lot for the space program and science in general. He'll be greatly missed.

    May 4th be with him.
  • The Right Stuff (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DG (989) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:25PM (#18989969) Homepage Journal
    Thus passes a man who truly had the Right Stuff.

    DG
  • Thus passes a true hero.
  • Gut fahrt [slashdot.org]
    • by iminplaya (723125)
      (Score:0, Offtopic)

      Okaaay, how about Rest In Peace [slashdot.org]? Bon voyageee? He might have gotten a chuckle out of it, unlike you humorless so an' soes
    • by treeves (963993)
      MODS please fix this: not Offtopic! I'd do it but I wasted my mod points already this morning.

      Gut fahrt is German for "Have a nice trip" or something like that. Not sure why he used German but that's beside the point.

      • by iminplaya (723125)
        Not sure why he used German...

        Because, like any true, red blooded American, I find fart jokes funny, and, although it just came to me, it's also in memory of launch pad "Fuhrer"* Gunther Wendt.

        *I did not make that up. He was quite the perfectionist.
        • by iminplaya (723125)
          Guess I spoke too soon. Gunther is still alive! Oh well, when he does die, I'll make a link to the previous post.
  • by rbrander (73222) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:44PM (#18990309) Homepage
    In "The Right Stuff", Tom Wolfe noted that Shirra was the one who almost laughed himself out of the space program.

    Much of the book was about the transition of the image of test pilot from "fighter jock", basically a blue-collar, manually-skilled guy who was a "natural stick & rudder man" to the white-collar scientist/robot who lived by the checklist.

    Neither was true of anybody, certainly, but at least one story in the book of a flight shared by pioneer Chuck Yeager and new kid Neil Armstrong underscored the difference between the generations.

    The Mercury Seven all had to kind of be both to make the cut; command respect from their fellows and the Old Guard in general as natural flyers, and also be respected by the German scientists and Washington bureaucrats running the new space program.

    Wally had an irreverent and irrepressable sense of humour that was loved by the old gang and very, very nearly got him shut out by the new, who basically wanted another computer in the capsule, an utterly reliable component with as few "human" characteristics as possible.

    Wally helped make sure it was humanity with all its strengths that became "Man in Space".
  • by Lurker2288 (995635) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:53PM (#18990507)
    Schirra was the only astronaut to fly missions for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. And the Apollo flight he commanded, which was the first one after the pad fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1, was conducted at a time when a lot of the astronauts still considered the Apollo craft to be a death trap. But they still went, and it was the success of their test flight that gave NASA the confidence to send the second manned Apollo mission all the way to lunar orbit in 1968.
  • Poor guy (Score:1, Troll)

    by johansalk (818687)
    Exposure to too much space radiation must've killed him.
  • Possibly second? (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 (917438) on Friday May 04, 2007 @12:58PM (#18990603) Journal
    Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to have flown on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions....

    One could almost argue for Gus Grissom [wikipedia.org] to be on that list, too. Second Mercury flight, first Gemini flight, and the commander of Apollo 1. Unfortunately, since Apollo 1 burned on the pad before ever leaving the ground, killing Grissom and his two crew, I guess Schirra stands alone.
  • by Spencerian (465343) on Friday May 04, 2007 @02:21PM (#18992213) Homepage Journal
    Since many posts have taken the opportunity to take pot-shots and cheap jokes about the astronaut program, I'll take time to recommend one docudrama on this astronaut's fine history: HBO's "From The Earth to the Moon" has a beautifully comprehensive episode called "We Have Cleared The Tower" on the events of getting the first Apollo test launch in space, and Wally's efforts to keep "Go Fever" from causing many of the same problems on his Apollo 7 that ultimately killed the Apollo 1 crew. Mark Harmon plays Schirra, and there are many good performances that fairly accurately detail the training, launch setup and pre-flight.

    After Scott Carpenter's near-disasterous Mercury flight (where he nearly exhausted his maneuvering fuel, jeopardizing his life on re-entry, and landing 250 miles off-target), Schirra's Sigma 7 mission put the project back on-course with textbook operation and completion of mission objectives, and was a highlight to the necessity of human input in spaceflight.

    In terms of spacecraft history, only John Young can be argued as the most experienced astronaut in terms of number of space flights (6), different spacecraft (4) as well as specific projects (3). He's flown two Gemini missions, flew Apollo 10 as Command Module pilot, flew Apollo 16 as Lunar Module commanding pilot, and flew Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia on its maiden flight and on STS-6. Jim Lovell has a similar history (having flown in Gemini and Apollo twice), but because of the events of Apollo 13, never walked on the moon, and retired before the Space Shuttle project. The only thing Young hasn't done was Mercury.

    Some of you may remember Schirra's commercials on Actifed in the 1970s (which he had to use on Apollo 7 when the astronauts caught a sniffle). I think that was one of the very few astronaut commercials (Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin have done some, I believe).
    • Some of you may remember Schirra's commercials on Actifed in the 1970s (which he had to use on Apollo 7 when the astronauts caught a sniffle). I think that was one of the very few astronaut commercials (Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin have done some, I believe).

      Frank Borman did quite a few in his capacity as CEO of Eastern Airlines. Another astronaut did commercials for Eveready right before they started the Bunny campaign, (though this may have been Schirra). I think Pete Conrad did a couple as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sakusha (441986)
      Schirra was a tech freak, he was determined that all his missions were absolutely by-the-book and even if they weren't the most daring missions, he'd achieve all the technical goals with absolute accuracy. From what I read, he achieved all everything he hoped for.

      In an odd coincidence, my Dad just sent me a copy of Schirra's book "Schirra's Space" (ISBN 1557507929) a couple of days ago. I haven't even had a chance to read it, but it freaked me out when he died just after I got it in the mail. Looks like an
    • by MtViewGuy (197597)
      John W. Young just missed out on flying the Mercury missions because he was among the Group II astronauts selected (which included Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon). Young was a bit of a joker, bringing a corned beef sandwich on the Gemini 3 flight (and getting severely reprimanded for it).
  • At his old fraternity house Sigma Pi - Alpha Mu Chapter of NJIT in Newark, NJ we still have his old records from when he was active. This man truly has left a legacy behind which none will forget. God Bless.
  • ... of radio silence.
  • "Hey, Wally, are you a Turtle?", and if he will give the proper response? :)

    RIP, Jolly Wally.
  • Wally done all right. One of the few who can truly be called a hero.
  • you will truly be missed May your afterlife take you to the stars, moreso than you have ventured in your current life
  • Good on ya, Mr. Schirra...may you have the best of luck on your final mission, scouting out the frontiers of the afterlife for those coming after you. We know you will carry it out with the same doggedness and attention to detail that marked your missions in this life.

    May you, Grissom, White, and Chaffee have a grand time catching up on the 'good old days'!

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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