A US Air Force test pilot, Cooper was launched into space May 15, 1963 aboard his spacecraft, Faith 7. His was the last Mercury mission. He orbited the Earth 22 times and logged more time in space than all five previous Mercury astronauts combined. His mission lasted 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds, during which he completed 22 orbits and traveled 546,167 miles at 17,547 miles per hour and pulled a maximum of 7.6 Gs. He achieved an altitude of 165.9 statute miles at apogee. He also gained the distinction of becoming the first American astronaut to sleep not only in orbit but on the launch pad during a countdown.
Two years later, August 21, 1965, Cooper flew in the Gemini program as the commander of Gemini 5, an eight-day mission with Charles Conrad Jr. Cooper was the first person to make a second orbital flight.
Cooper was tentatively scheduled to fly in the Apollo program but was scratched after a falling out with NASA management. He retired from NASA and the Air Force on July 31, 1970 with the rank of Colonel.