Author Topic: "Leap of Faith" : new book from former USAF pilot  (Read 1468 times)

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"Leap of Faith" : new book from former USAF pilot
« on: June 01, 2003, 06:40:52 AM »
The periscope inside the museum that the blockhouse at Pad 14 has become works like a prop from a submarine movie. But swimming into view during the two-handled, 360-degree swivel comes some unexpected symbolism. The massive firing rooms that once ignited America's earliest space shots hump out of Canaveral Air Force Station's dense scrubby wilderness like cement anthills. A flashback to the spectral pyramids of the Yucatan passes quickly.

On this white-hot Sunday morning, history is re-materializing around a dismantled gateway to the cosmos. Official history, that is. Meaning that certain subjects are simply not talked about. Even if the pioneer initiates the discussion.

Forty years ago, Gordon Cooper strapped himself into a Mercury capsule named Faith 7, then rode a pillar of fire into "Right Stuff" legend aboard an Atlas rocket. Today, the supporting cast has reunited, dozens strong, perhaps for the last time, beneath a tent within a stone's throw of Pad 14. With admiration, Lt. Col. Thomas Eye of the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base revisit's Cooper's claims to immortality:

The Faith 7 mission logged more than 34 hours, more than the five previous Mercury astronauts combined. Two years later, Cooper became the first pilot chosen for a second orbital flight, in the Gemini sequence. The "trailblazer" was on the cutting edge of a communications revolution when, in orbit, he chatted with Mercury colleague Scott Carpenter, 205 feet beneath the California waves in Sealab II. It is an impressive tribute.

Access to Cooper is a traffic jam. They want to shake hands, to chat, to get autographs. But no one submits a copy of his controversial autobiography, published in 2000. In fact, a spot check of half a dozen old-timers fails to find anyone who's read it, although they've heard the buzz. There are chuckles, puzzled brows.

"I don't believe there's anything such as UFOs," offers Cal Fowler, former Atlas launch director and longtime acquaintance of Cooper. "They've never landed, anyway. Maybe they came and left after they didn't find anything here to exploit."

Cooper's memoir, "Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey Into the Unknown," takes a fearless, if not downright exuberant, plunge into the taboo waters of unidentified flying objects. Although "Leap of Faith" scuttles enduring urban legends contending he and other early astronauts observed UFOs in orbit, the retired Air Force colonel is convinced of their existence and calls for official dialogues and government transparency. In 1978, he lobbied unsuccessfully for the United Nations to play a leading role in future studies.

Not only does Cooper elaborate on his 1951 sightings of metallic discs while serving with a jet fighter squadron in West Germany, he details his role in a UFO landing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1957. The latter, he says, was photographed by two military photographers, with stills and 35 mm footage. Before dispatching the images to the Pentagon, from which they never re-emerged, Cooper got a look at the negatives and reports the object was a "classic saucer" extruding tripod landing gear before it took off.

UFO skeptics such as Jim Oberg of Houston have teed off on "Leap of Faith." He can find no Air Force colleagues to verify Cooper's West German encounters. Advocates such as Stanton Friedman of Canada credit Cooper for being "gutsy" but lament his association with one of the UFO contactees, whom Friedman calls "a phony."

Surrounded by impatient co-workers, none of them addressing the autobiographical indelicacies, Cooper manages to find a few moments. He looks frail, but his mind is calculating. He blows off his critics with a shrug.

"UFOs, assuming they're real, are not going to show us what they've got until they're ready to show us," the old astronaut says. "Until then, we're not going to force it."

Liberated by history to speak his mind, the enigma is escorted into the air-conditioned bunker, where they will talk of other things.