Leroy Gordon “Gordo” Cooper
Gordo was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1927. His father, Leroy Gordon Cooper Sr. had served with the United States Navy during World War II. After the war, he became a pilot with the Oklahoma National Guard.
During World War II
During World War II, Cooper Sr. served in the Pacific and then joined the United States Air Force in 1947. This was the same year that it was formed, making him one of the first members. By the time he retired in 1957, he had reached the rank of colonel. Cooper Sr. believed that flying was in his blood, he passed this down to his son, Gordo. Gordo was only 7 or 8-years-old when his father gave him his first turn on the controls of a plane. Cooper Sr. owned a light aircraft, a Command-Aire biplane, and he allowed his son to fly it solo at a very young age. He was doing this unofficially until the age of 12 when he began working toward his pilot’s license. He got it when he was just 16-years old. When Gordo graduated from high school in 1945, he wanted to fly, just like his father.
U.S. Marine Corps
When Gordo graduated, there were no places available in either the Army or Navy flying schools. He wanted to serve his country, so he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He left for France right after enlisting, where he began his training. World War II ended shortly after he was posted, so he never got to see active service in the war. He was a bit disappointed. He went on to the National Guard in Washington D.C., he he was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1946. He moved to Hawaii, where he lived with his parents and enrolled in college. He still had flying in his blood, so he bought a Piper Cub plane. The same year, he met a woman named Trudy Olson at a local flying club, and they got married in 1947.
Gordo still wanted to serve his country, so while in college, he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. In June 1949, he joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. A few months later, he moved onto the U.S. Air force, where the received flight training at various airbases, including Texas and Arizona. After completing his training, he was posted in West Germany in 1950. He was there for four years, flying F-84 Thunderjets and F-83 Sabres, where he reached the rank of the flight commander. He returned to the U.S. in 1954, and he enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology (AIFT) in Ohio.
While in the AIFT, Gordo nearly died. He and his friend, Gus Grissom, were taking off in a Lockheed T-33 in 1956 when it suffered a power loss. The undercarriage came off, and the plane fell 2,000-feet from the sky before going up in flames. Fortunately, the pilots escaped from the wreckage unharmed. After the accident, Gordo graduated from the AFIT with a Bachelor in Science in aerospace engineering in 1956.
Edward’s Air Force Base
Next, Gordo moved to Edwards Air Force Base in California. He took a course at the U.S. Air Force Experimental Flight Test School. After graduating, he was assigned to the Flight Test Engineering Division. There, he was employed as a project manager test pilot. His role there was to put a variety of fighter jets through their paces. When he suggested several modifications to the Delta Dart, which was a massive boon for the air force. In 1959, he was ordered to Washington D.C. and provided no reason. Major General Marcus F. Cooper heard about it and warned Gordo about getting involved with space travel. He ignored it and headed to Washington. He was told that he would be joining the newly formed NASA. He was going to be part of Project Mercury, where they were planning the first manned space flight. He was the youngest man selected for the mission.
Despite NASA staffers expressing doubt in Gordo’s participation in the mission due to his poor judgment, he got his turn to go into space. He would be piloting the planned 24-hour long mission that would orbit the Earth 18 times. He spent a little over 34-hours in space in May of 1963. This was the longest that any of the Mercury astronauts had been in space at that point. He was also the only person to sleep in space. He slept for over seven hours and reported having no dreams while in space. While he was in space, there was a power blackout, and the carbon dioxide levels and the temperature inside the spacecraft increased. He had to take control of the ship, using only the stars and his wristwatch to guide him. He managed to land 7,000-yards from where the aircraft carrier was to pick him up.
More Space Travel
In 1965, Gordo went into space on Project Gemini, where he was in space for 191 hours. NASA needed this done to see if a trip to the moon was possible. Gordo was part of the Apollo 12 million and was the third man to walk on the moon. He was set to take command of Apollo 13, but this third mission was aborted. He was disappointed and decided ti was time to retire. After retiring, he worked as a businessman and a technical consultant.
All this time, Gordo was holding onto a secret. While aboard Faith 7, he was on a vert mission to search for nuclear bases in the Caribbean. The government believed that they were being operated by Cuba, and was supplied by missiles for the Soviet Union. While in space, he noticed several anomalies, but they were too small to be nuclear bases. He kept notes of these. The small magnetic anomalies we believed to be shipwrecks. After his mission, he started researching shipwrecks to see if they matched up with the locations that he noted. He used his information to create a map of the wrecks, and he believed that some could have held treasure.
Passing It On
Sadly, Gordo died in 2004, before he could use the map. Fortunately, he passed it to a treasurer hunter and diver named Darrell Miklos. The two men met when Darrell’s father and Gordo were appearing on The Merv Griffin Show, and Darrell was impressed to be meeting a real astronaut. They became friends, and before Gordo died, he gave Darrell his map. Darrell’s expeditions were documented on the Discovery Channel’s, Cooper’s treasure. They have already uncovered many sunken ships, and they will likely be able to find more, and it is all thanks to Gordo. This astronaut discovered caches of treasure while up in space and kept them secret until his death. Fortunately, he passed on maps, and amazing things have been found.