Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr. born on March 6, 1927 in Shawnee, Oklahoma was a member of the seven initial American astronauts involved with Project Mercury, the beginning of America's manned space program. Cooper piloted the final Mercury spaceflight in 1963. In 1965 Cooper was the command pilot of Gemini 5. Cooper spent 222 hours in space and held the rank of Colonel in the USAF.
On the Mercury project, Cooper specialized in the Redstone rocket and invented a person survival knife that astronauts still carry. He chaired the Emergency Egress Committee responsible for emergency lunch pad procedures. He was the capsule communicator for Alan Shepard's sub-orbital flight as well as Scott Carpenter's space-flight on Aurora or Mercury-Atlas 7.
Cooper was the command pilot on Gemini 5, an eight-day mission. He flew with Pete Conrad and established a new endurance record. Cooper was also the backup command pilot for Gemini 12. Cooper was selected as commander for Apollo 10, but after an argument with NASA management he retired on July 31, 1970.
Cooper worked with The Walk Disney Company for the research and development of the Epcot Center. He was a consultant and served on corporate boards as a technical consultant for high performance boat design, energy, construction, and aircraft design. Cooper was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from Oklahoma State University and he co-authored his autobiography Leap of Faith.
In 1957 Cooper was working with the Experimental Flight Test Engineering Davison based at Edwards AFB. He and his crew were purported to have seen a strange-looking saucer that might have been an UFO.
Cooper was married twice: Trudy in 1947 (2 daughters) and Suzan Taylor in 1972 (2 daughters). Cooper developed Parkinson's disease and died from heart failure in Ventura, California on October 4, 2004.