Astronaut Grissom’s 50th Anniversary Space Flight

The Gus Grissom Story

Virgil I. Grissom was born on April 3, 1926 in Mitchell, Indiana, the oldest of four children.
In 1944, he graduated from Mitchell High School. Motivated by a strong interest in technology and aircraft construction, he completed on year of pre-cadet training in the U.S. Army Air corps. Grissom was inducted into the Air Corps in August 1944 and discharged in November with the rank of corporal.
Grissom went on to study at Purdue University, graduating in February 1950, with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
He joined the United States Air Force and was commissioned a second lieutenant in March 1951. In December of that year, Grissom shipped overseas to fight in the Korean War.
Grissom flew 100 missions with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in less than six months, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
When he returned from Korea, Grissom was assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. He then transferred to the Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Grissom specialized in “checking-out” advanced-designed fighter planes; he logged more than 4600 hours as an airplane pilot – 3500 hours in jet aircraft.
In April 1959, the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) announced the selection of the country’s first seven astronauts. Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was part of this elite group that would become known as the “Mercury 7”.
The goal of Project Mercury was to place a manned spacecraft in orbit and return that spacecraft safely to earth.
As part of Project Mercury, Gus Grissom became America’s second man in space on July 21, 1961, in a capsule named the “Liberty Bell 7”. A successful flight was followed by a dramatic ending when the capsule was lost at sea after splashdown. Although Grissom himself was safely retrieved from the water, the mishap forced NASA to rethink its recovery techniques.
Grissom’s next assignment was to oversee the design, and then to command, the first manned mission of the Gemini program. The two primary goals of the Gemini series were to launch a two-person capsule designed to maneuver and work in space, and to test plans, techniques, and equipment needed for a landing on the moon.
On March 23, 1965, the Gemini III launched with Grissom at the helm, in a capsule he christened the “Molly Brown”. The flight lasted five hours and flew nearly 81,000 miles around the earth, completing three orbits. During the voyage, Grissom made history again as the first person to ever control and change the path of a spacecraft while in orbit. This was done with a multi-axis joystick he innovated for controlling the maneuvering thrusters with one hand.
The final steps needed to prepare for a successful, manned, lunar landing were undertaken during the Apollo program. The ultimate goal of Apollo was to launch a spacecraft on a path to the moon, using the weak lunar gravity to slingshot the spacecraft to the moon and then back to earth.
In February 1966, Virgil I. Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were chosen as the crew for the Apollo I mission.
On January 27, 1967, during a test on the launch pad, a flash fire broke out inside the command module. Grissom, White, and Chaffee were trapped inside, unable to escape the blaze.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Mitchell’s hometown hero, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the flight of the Liberty Bell 7
From July 21-23, Lawrence County will celebrate not only astronaut, Virgil “Gus” Grissom but two more astronauts from here, Charlie Walker and Ken Bowersox.


Having three astronauts from one county make us unique and we will be having many varied events pertaining to our rich space exploration history.
The first event will be the Launch Breakfast on July 21 at the Spring Mill Inn. A panel discussion will feature the original Liberty Bell 7 engineers. Author of Grissom’s biography, Ray Boomhower will lead a conversation with the public before a free showing of the Discovery Channel Documentary “In Search of Liberty Bell 7” with Curt Newport, who lead the search.
Friday, July 22, Bedford native astronauts Charlie Walker and Ken Bowersox will speak at a Bedford Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Chamber at 812-275-4493. That evening, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, herself a Bedford native, will host the Liberty Bell Space Ball with the band “Summertime” performing for the formal event. Tickets can be purchased through the Bedford Chamber or Mitchell City Hall at 812-849-5161. July 23 will be the Grand Parade in downtown Mitchell, featuring the Grissom Air Force Base Color Guard. Grissom family members will host an open house of Gus Grissom’s boyhood home, which is near the site of the Grissom Monument which is made from a single block of Indiana limestone and surrounded by a wall of bricks from Grissom’s elementary school.
Spring Mill State Park is home to the Grissom Memorial Museum and has activities, receptions, and events for all ages all of the days of the celebration. Aiding in the festivities at the park will be the Stonebelt Stargazers with telescope viewings and the Hoosier Hills Ham Radio Club that will allow conversations with the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and a free showing of a film by Purdue University about graduate, Grissom.
This is a rare chance to see what Virgil I. Grissom, Lawrence County, and Indiana mean to the history and direction of the American space program.

Original Mercury 7 astronauts
Courtesy of Life Magazine

Published in: on July 1, 2011 at 8:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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