Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper, Jr. was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma on March 6, 1927. Cooper received a commission in the U.S. Army after completing three years of schooling at the University of Hawaii. He transferred his commission to the Air Force and was placed on active duty by that service in 1949 and went to flight training.
Colonel Cooper went on to fly F-84s and F-86s in Europe while simultaneously attending the European Extension of the University of Maryland night school. He returned to the U.S. and, after two years of study at the Air Force Institute of Technology, received his bachelor's degree in Engineering. From there, he reported to the Air Force Experimental Flight Test School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Upon graduating in 1957, he was assigned as an aeronautical engineer and test pilot in the Performance Engineering Branch of the Flight Test Division at Edwards. His responsibilities there included the flight testing of experimental fighter aircraft.
In 1959, Colonel Cooper was selected as a Mercury astronaut. On May 15-16, 1963 he piloted the "Faith 7" spacecraft on a 22-orbit mission which concluded the operational phase of Project Mercury. During the 34 hours and 20 minutes of flight, Faith 7 attained an apogee of 166 statue miles and a speed of 17,546 miles per hour and traveled 546,167 statue miles. Colonel Cooper's experiences with the Mercury project were portrayed in the movie "The Right Stuff."
Cooper served as command pilot of the 8-day 120-revoution Gemini 5 mission which began on August 21, 1965. It was on this flight that he and pilot Charles Conrad established a new space endurance record by traveling a distance of 3,312,993 miles in an elapsed time of 190 hours and 56 minutes. Cooper also became the first man to make a second orbital flight and thus won for the United States the lead in man-hours in space by accumulating a total of 225 hours and 15 minutes.
Colonel Cooper retired from the Air Force and NASA in 1970. In his career, he logged more than 7,000 hours flying time - 4,000 hours in jet aircraft. He has flown all types of Commercial and General aviation airplanes and helicopters. Gordo Cooper received numerous honors and awards during his career including an Honorary Doctorate of Science degree from Oklahoma City University in 1967, The Air Force Legion of Merit, The Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, The Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross Cluster, The NASA Exceptional Service Medal, The NASA Distinguished Service Medal, USAF Command Astronaut Wings, The Collier Trophy, The Harmon Trophy, The Scottish Rite 33°, The York Rite Knight of the Purple Cross, and other awards.
Gordo Cooper also had extensive experience in private industry, starting back in 1962 when he was president of Performance Unlimited, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of race and Marine engines, and fiberglass boats. His business experiences extended numerous business ventures in the areas of testing and development of engines, high technology items, and energy development.