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<i>Mercury</i> Astronaut Gordon Cooper Dies - 2004-10-05

Pioneering astronaut Gordon Cooper has died in California, at age 77. He was one of the seven Mercury astronauts who led the way in the exploration of space.

Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, he served in the U.S. Army, then transferred to the Air Force, where he flew as a test pilot.

Gordon Cooper joined the U.S. space agency's astronaut program in 1959, becoming the youngest of the seven Mercury astronauts. He flew solo in the Faith Seven capsule in 1963. Two years later, he would set an endurance record of eight days in space on the two-man Gemini 5 mission.

His fellow Mercury astronaut, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, died in 1967, in a fire on a Florida launching pad. Mercury astronauts Donald "Deke" Slayton and Alan Shepard Junior later died of natural causes.

Three Mercury comrades survive Cooper: John Glenn, Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra.

The seven were portrayed the book The Right Stuff by author Tom Wolfe, and in the 1983 film of the same title.

Gordon Cooper had suffered from heart problems. He died of natural causes, Monday, at his home in Ventura, California.