With Annie Glenn’s death this May of Covid-19,
Rene Carpenter was the last of the Mercury
–don’t call them wives —
fourteen partners in pioneering spaceflight.
She refused to conform, wove her way
through NASA and after forging her own identity
in a wide range of endeavors all her own,
in writing, politics, television, feminism,
far too full for my pen to give justice.
Let me give just one small example
of her spirit, on display that day,
May 24, 1962, when Scott Carpenter flew
the second U.S. Orbital flight. She defied
the norms of the times and the ones
so quickly hardened in the young NASA
that wives stay home, never venture to the Cape
and definitely never watch their husband’s launch,
not after so many Atlas boosters ended in a fireball.
Stay home, stay home, out of sight until after the flights
declared a success. Rene said no, vowed to defy
every damn official and handler in NASA. So
when the moment of liftoff through a light fog arrived,
she and her four children watched from a Cape beach house,
bore witness to come what may.
That’s story enough to let you touch
the soul of Rene Carpenter, a woman
beyond her times, one who in a different age
could have been an astronaut herself.