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Published: Tuesday, 10/15/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

Local man had strong ties to American hero

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania school bus driver Lowell King holding a signed photo he has of now deceased astronaut Scott Carpenter, whom Mr. King worked for in 1968.  Sylvania school bus driver Lowell King holding a signed photo he has of now deceased astronaut Scott Carpenter, whom Mr. King worked for in 1968.
BRAD RIEGER Enlarge

Lowell King likes to fly ... but only so high.

A licensed pilot, he soars in planes up to a certain level — where there is still oxygen — and that’s perfectly fine with him.

A bus driver with Sylvania Schools, Mr. King worked for six months with Scott Carpenter, a NASA pioneer astronaut who had rocketed into outer space and into the history books.

Less than a week after Mr. Carpenter died at age 88, Mr. King recalled the time when the astronaut-turned aquanaut was his boss at SEALAB III.

“Of course we all knew him. He was the boss,” Mr. King said.

Along with John Glenn, who flew three months before him, Mr. Carpenter was one of the last two surviving Mercury 7 astronauts for the fledgling U.S. space program.

Mr. Carpenter, who had a lifelong commitment to exploration, launched into space on May 24, 1962. His return to Earth caused some breath-holding when he overshot his landing by 288 miles, giving NASA and the nation an hour-long scare. Talking to a suddenly solemn nation, CBS newsman Walter Cronkite said, “We may have ... lost an astronaut.”

Riff from the off-the-mark landing kept Mr. Carpenter grounded. He did not go into space again. Instead, he became an aquanaut, earning him credit as the only man to ever formally explore the two frontiers.

Mr. King described Mr. Carpenter as an American hero who risked his life at a time when the country was in the fledgling stage of the Space Age. It was Naval ties that connected him with Mr. Carpenter.

Mr. King, 75, a Sylvania Township resident, joined the Navy in 1957. He had no interest in combat duty. “I didn’t want to sleep in the dirt, like in a fox hole.”

He served six years active duty and then 14 years in the Reserve as a chief petty officer. He didn’t have to sleep in the dirt, but he was aboard ship during the Suez Crisis and was on shore duty during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A printer in the Navy, he retired from the printing business in 2001 and then was a substitute teacher at Penta Career Center in printing/​graphic arts for 10 years.

Trudy Foster, assistant transportation coordinator for Sylvania Schools, said Mr. King is incredibly smart and a dedicated worker. “He is an all-round good person. They don’t make them like him anymore. There is not much you could ask of him that he couldn’t do,” she said, adding that it wouldn’t surprise her if Mr. King at one time had an interest in exploring space, the final frontier.

He’s a real go-getter, for certain, but going into space? Going under sea? No way, no thanks.

But he welcomed the opportunity to work with Mr. Carpenter. In 1968, when Mr. King was working in The Blade’s composing room, he accepted a callback to active duty with SEALAB III where Mr. Carpenter was his boss for six months. “I did get a nice autographed photograph of him. How often does one get a chance to work for a hero?”

SEALAB I, II, and III were experimental underwater habitats developed by the Navy in the 1960s to prove the viability of saturation diving and humans living in isolation for extended periods of time.

SEALAB II was launched in 1965 off the coast of California. Each team spent 15 days in the habitat, but aquanaut/​astronaut Mr. Carpenter remained below for a record 30 days. SEALAB III was located off San Clemente Island, Calif.

Several online condolences called Mr. Carpenter a true hero, an icon, an inspiration. Several credited the astronaut for sparking interest in science. In other tributes, several people noted how they would gather around their TV sets to watch space launches, landings, and recoveries.

Wrote one mourner in a farewell message to the man of the sky and the sea: “Fly with the angels.”

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com or 419-724-6006.



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