William Marty Schirra, Jr.

Astronaut/Pilot
Enshrined 1986
1923-2007

Biography

Walter Schirra began flying his father’s airplane at the age of 15. This marked the beginnings of a man who would eventually become the only astronaut to fly on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

Schirra, born in 1923 in New Jersey, joined the Navy shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He earned his Naval Aviator wings in 1948 and flew in over 90 combat missions during the Korean War.

In 1952 he participated in the development of the Sidewinder missile, an antiaircraft missile that had an infrared sensor that enabled it to seek out the engine of an enemy plane and then fly up its tailpipe and explode. On one occasion, Schirra fired a Sidewinder and something went wrong. The missile started tracking Schirra’s plane. Schirra’s flying skills and quick thinking saved his life when he literally outflew the missile.

When NASA began recruiting astronauts for its Mercury mission in 1959, Schirra was selected Commander of the program. Also part of the Mercury project was Donald Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom and L. Gordon Cooper. Mercury was designed to orbit a one-man spacecraft and measure its pilot’s reactions and abilities during flight.

On October 3, 1962, Schirra was launched on the third U.S. Orbital flight in the Mercury-Atlas 8 spacecraft named “Sigma 7”. The Mercury series demonstrated the feasibility of long-range space flights.

Later, in 1964, Schirra began work on the two-man Gemini program. On Gemini 6-A, the mission after the Gemini 6 explosion, Schirra participated in the first rendezvous between two manned spacecraft.

In 1968 Schirra also participated in the Apollo-7 mission with Don Eisele and Walter Cunningham. The Apollo-7 mission was extremely successful because of the use of a camera that permitted daily transmissions from the spacecraft.

Schirra resigned from NASA in 1969 and began pursuing business interests. The former astronaut has received numerous awards, including the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Medals, the Collier Trophy, the Harmon Trophy and many others.

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