Along with John Glenn, who flew three months before him, Carpenter was one of the last two surviving original Mercury 7 astronauts for the fledgling US space program. (Agencies)
His wife, Patty Barrett, said Carpenter died of complications from a September stroke in a Denver hospice on Thursday. He lived in Vail, Colorado.
"We're going to miss him," she said.
At a time when astronauts achieved fame on par with rock stars, folks across the country sat glued to their TV screens, anxiously awaiting the outcome of Carpenter's 1962 ride. He overshot his landing by 465 kilometers, giving NASA and the nation an hour-long scare that he might not have made it back alive.
The fallout from that missed landing was a factor that kept NASA from launching Carpenter into space again. So he went from astronaut to "aquanaut" and lived at length on the sea floor the only man to ever formally explore the two frontiers.
The launch into space was nerve-racking for the Navy pilot on the morning of May 24, 1962.
"You're looking out at a totally black sky, seeing an altimeter reading of 90,000 feet and realize you are going straight up. And the thought crossed my mind: What am I doing?" Carpenter said 49 years later in a joint lecture with Glenn at the Smithsonian Institution.
For Carpenter, the momentary fear was worth it, he said in 2011: "The view of Mother Earth and the weightlessness is an addictive combination of senses."
Along with John Glenn, who flew three months before him, Carpenter was one of the last two surviving original Mercury 7 astronauts for the fledgling US space program.