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One of the original Mercury Seven astronauts,Walter M. Schirra Jr., dies

Walter M. Schirra Jr., one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts and the only man to fly on all three of NASA's early space missions, has died. He was 84.

His family said he died late Wednesday and had been suffering from cancer, David Mould, NASA press secretary in Washington, said Thursday.

In 1962, Schirra became the third American to orbit the Earth, encircling the globe six times in a flight that lasted more than nine hours.

He returned to space three years later as commander of Gemini 6 and guided his two-man capsule toward Gemini 7, already in orbit. On Dec. 15, 1965, the two ships came within a few feet of each other as they shot through space, some 185 miles above the Earth. It was the first rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbit.

His third and final space flight in 1968 inaugurated the Apollo program that sought to land a man on the moon.

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