Fall / Winter 2021

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144 SAG-AFTRA | Fall/Winter 2021 | T he first live TV broadcast from space won an honorary AFTRA membership card for 36-year-old astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, youngest of the seven NASA Project Mercury astronauts. Memorably portrayed by Dennis Quaid in the 1983 feature film The Right Stuff, Cooper made his historic broadcast on May 15, 1963, while traveling solo 17,500 miles an hour in his Faith 7 capsule on his second of 22 orbits around the earth. It was the final flight of the Mercury program and Cooper also became the last American astronaut to solo in space. His mission finished on May 16 after 34 hours in space, and his capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Midway Island. The aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge plucked his capsule from the ocean and, after Cooper was safely aboard, President John F. Kennedy phoned to congratulate him on his flight and safe return. On May 21, President Kennedy awarded Cooper the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in a ceremony in the White House Flower Garden, stating, "I think one of the things which warmed us the most during this flight was the realization that however extraordinary computers may be, that we are still ahead of them and that man is still the most extraordinary computer of all. His judgment, his nerve and the lessons he can learn from experience still make him unique and, therefore, make manned flight necessary and not merely that of satellites." Shortly after his return to earth, Cooper enthused about becoming the first live broadcaster in space: "I was tickled at being the first person ever to conduct a show as producer, director, photographer and actor, all in one!" But he did so without being a member of AFTRA! Accordingly, the day after President Kennedy's award, AFTRA presented the astronaut with an honorary life membership card in a small ceremony on the 35th floor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, where Cooper and his family were staying in the presidential suite. Cooper accepted the card from AFTRA New York Local Executive Secretary Kenneth Groot, New York Local President Leon Janney and New York Local 2nd VP Vicki Vola, who would be elected AFTRA's national president four months later. Vola shared the meeting details in an article in Stand By!, the AFTRA New York Local membership magazine: "We told [Cooper], 'We take great pleasure in presenting to you this AFTRA card which makes you an honorary member for life,' To which he quipped, 'I guess I was illegal yesterday, wasn't I?'" In 2003, the year before Cooper's death at age 77, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum received the pressurized space suit he wore on that 1963 flight from NASA. It can be viewed on the website for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at L. Gordon Cooper, NASA's first AFTRA-naut Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper gave the first live TV broadcast from space, earning him an honorary AFTRA card in 1961 from NY Local 2nd VP Vicki Vola, center, and AFTRA NY Local President Leon Janney, far right. Below, President John F. Kennedy presents the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to Cooper on May 21, 1963. RIGHT: STAND BY! MAGAZINE, SAG-AFTRA ARCHIVES; LEFT: ROBERT KNUDSEN. WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHS. JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM, BOSTON

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