On May 24th, 1962, astronaut Scott Carpenter embarked on a very nearly disastrous mission aboard the Aurora 7 spacecraft. Now, Mallon (Arts and Sciences, 1988; Stolen Words, 1989) offers a meditative re-creation of that memorable day in the lives of an assortment of Americans (both real and imagined), in which previously unrelated destinies converge and, in Carpenter's life as well as the lives of others, sheer luck plays a pivotal role. Gregory Noonan, an 11-year-old native of Melwyn Park, New York, is a confirmed space nut--misunderstood by his loving mother and mild-mannered, bemused, glove-salesman dad. Even before breakfast on May 24th, Gregory is downstairs watching the televised preparations for the day's launch. Gregory is tense. A lot rides on America's success in space--the USSR is dogging our tail. . . The story cuts from Carpenter in his capsule to Kennedy in the White House to an unemployed Puerto Rican teenager in Manhattan to an acerbic New Yorker writer (who's trying to push through the crowd to watch the flight on a giant TV screen in Grand Central Station), while Gregory grows increasingly convinced that something terrible is about to happen. His premonition prompts him to skip school, take a train to Grand Central Station, and join the crowd anxiously awaiting the outcome of Carpenter's flawed reentry from space. But is it Carpenter's life, or Gregory's, that lies in the balance today? Once the Aurora 7 has splashed down safely, though 200 miles off-course, Gregory wanders outside--where a cab that has just nicked the unemployed teenager careens around a corner and toward the unsuspecting child. Behind Gregory, the New Yorker writer glances up, sees the danger, and reaches out to try to snatch the boy out of harm's way. . . An overly schematic tale--though ultimately engaging--whose moral seems to be: Why fear death in space when it lurks on every street corner?