Rene Carpenter, 1928-2020

Rene Carpenter, 92, born on April 12, 1928 — 33 years to the day before the flight of Yuri Gagarin — died on July 24, the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown.

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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.  

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