OKLAHOMA CITY Shawnee native Gordon Cooper, the last astronaut to fly in NASA's Mercury program, is to become the first astronaut to have some of his ashes launched into space.
Cooper died of natural causes on Oct. 4, 2004, at his home in Ventura, Calif., at age 77.
Suzan Cooper, his wife of 32 years, said it was easy to decide to place some of his ashes in space.
"He would have taken another flight into space if he could have. He loved to fly," she said in a telephone interview.
She said her husband told her that when he was growing up in Oklahoma, his father, who was a pilot, would sit him on his lap at the controls of an airplane.
"He was more comfortable flying than any place else. He had a confidence or an optimism in flying and in life that everything would be just fine," Suzan Cooper said.
Space Services Inc., a Houston company, said that early next year some of Cooper's remains, along with those of 173 other people from eight countries, would be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Some of the remains of the late James Doohan, who played Mr. Scott in the Star Trek series, will also be on the flight.
Susan Schonfeld, a spokesman for Space Services Inc., said the company has set up a Web site that will allow the public to write remembrances. Those messages will go into space along with Cooper's ashes. It can be accessed at www.spacehero.net.
Cooper, born March 6, 1927, in Shawnee, joined the Marines during World War II.
He transferred to the Air Force in 1949 before becoming part of the original team of NASA astronauts.