NEW YORK - NASA pioneer astronaut Scott Carpenter died Thursday at the age of 88 due to medical complications from a recent stroke, leaving John Glenn as the last remaining member of the Mercury 7, family friends told NBC News.
Carpenter had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke last month in Vail, where he has his home. His wife, Patty Barrett, says Carpenter died of complications from that stroke in a Denver hospice.
Word of his death came from a friend in Florida, Mark Widick, via NBC News' Cape Canaveral correspondent, Jay Barbree.
Carpenter's death leaves Glenn, 92, as the last living member of the Mercury 7, NASA's first group of astronauts.
Carpenter was the backup for the Friendship 7 mission on Feb. 20, 1962, which made Glenn the first American in Earth orbit. It was Carpenter who radioed, "Godspeed, John Glenn," from NASA's Cape Canaveral blockhouse as his colleague headed for history.
Carpenter became the second American in orbit on May 24, 1962, when he piloted his Aurora 7 capsule through three orbits. During that flight, he became the first American to eat solid food in space (in the form of energy snacks called "Space Food Sticks").
"When he went into orbit, instead of just worrying about being a test pilot, he was trying to analyze everything that was happening up there," Barbree said. "That's why I call him the first scientist-astronaut."
Aurora 7 was Carpenter's only spaceflight: He was removed from flight status after breaking his arm in a motorcycle accident in 1964, and left NASA in 1967.
In addition to his astronaut experience, the former naval aviator participated in the Navy's SeaLab underwater training program as an aquanaut.
"Scott was a hero of the nation. He will be remembered for his work in space and for being a pioneer in space and his underwater work that he was very proud of and continued with through his entire life time, supporting work in the ocean. He always encouraged people to think ahead, and I think that was one of his biggest gifts to the nation. He was a leader. He was loved by so many people, not just for what he had done, but for who he was. That's how I would like him to be remembered," Patty Carpenter said.
After his retirement from the Navy in 1969, Carpenter took on a number of business ventures and served as a movie consultant in the fields of spaceflight, oceanography and the environment. He wrote two novels as well as a memoir titled "For Spacious Skies."
When Glenn returned to orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998, Carpenter said the space missions that he and his Mercury crewmates took on were part of a decades-long effort that would ultimately put humans on Mars.
"All these flights will one day lead to manned exploration of other worlds outside our own solar system," Carpenter said in an essay written for NBC News. "That will not be soon. But it is inevitable."
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