Sunday, July 24, 2011

Liberty Bell 7 50th Anniversary

On July 21st, 1961, the Mercury-Redstone rocket named Liberty Bell 7 sat on the launch pad. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was the astronaut in the pilot seat. The rocket launched at 7:20 am EST making Gus the second American to venture into space. ...His flight only lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. Trouble hit when after the craft landed in the ocean. The explosive actuators on the hatch blew early filling the Liberty Bell with water. Gus made it out of the space craft while his space suit filled with water. A marine helicopter was present and trying to rescue the Liberty Bell, but had to abandon it because of the weight of the water it had taken on. The Liberty Bell 7 sank to the bottom of the ocean (recovery occurred in 1999.) Gus was rescued after 3 or 4 minutes treading water in a heavy space suit. NASA originally blamed Gus for opening the hatch early, Gus maintained it was a malfunction. After an investigation Gus was proven correct, the door malfunctioned upon impact.

Gus continued with NASA and worked with the Gemini Project. The capsules used in the Gemini Project had the nickname “Gusmobile” because Gus worked heavily on the design of the space craft. Donald Slayton once noted "Gemini would not fly without a guy at the controls... It was laid out the way a pilot likes to have the thing laid out... Gus was the guy who did all that."

The space capsule in the background is Gemini-Titan 3 (Titan was the name of the rocket, as Redstone was the name of the Mercury rocket). It was nicknamed the “Molly Brown” in honor of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown from the Titanic. It was also the last time NASA allowed spacecraft to be nicknamed.

Gus became the first person to fly twice in space. After the completion of the Gemini program, NASA and America was ready to continue their trip to the Moon. Gus was one of the astronauts chosen for the Apollo program and the only remaining active astronaut from the Mercury program. Gus would also be the first man to make three trips into space.

On January 27, 1967 Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were conducting tests of the Apollo 1 spacecraft when it caught fire and killed all three astronauts inside.

July 21st, 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Gus Grissom's first flight into space atop the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft. Here, Betty Grissom, 84, wife of Gus Grissom, has returned home to Mitchell Indiana and to Spring Mill State Park where the Molly Brown is on permanent display. One of the engineers who worked on the Mercury program examines the Molly Brown in the background.

More Images:
Masato Maruyama makes the trip from Tokyo Japan

A young girl looks over the monument

Attendants pray at the beginning of the wreath laying

Media interviews Betty and Mark Grissom (son)

Gemini III - "Molly Brown"

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