"Champion of the Cosmos"

Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom


April 3, 1926 - January 27, 1967

Born on April 3, 1926, in Mitchell, Indiana
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University

About the Man

Gus Grissom entered the Air Force in 1944, but took time out to get a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1950. He returned to the Air Force and they sent him to Korea, where he flew in combat missions.

Gus flew wing position in combat to cover the flanks of other pilots. He also kept an eye out for enemy planes. In 1952, when his tour of Korea ended, Gus worked as an instructor to younger pilots. In August of 1955, he entered the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

A year later the Air Force sent Gus to the United States Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, in California.

In May of 1957, Gus returned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He had logged a total of forty-six hundred hours as a pilot, including thirty-five hundred hours in jets.

About the Spaceflights

Mercury 4 (Liberty Bell)


July 21, 1961

On July 21, 1961, Grissom lifted off into space aboard the Mercury-Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft. He was the second American in space. He proved how valuable the water survival training was during his suborbital flight.

The bolts securing the hatch of Grissom's spacecraft blew off prematurely after splashdown. His water survival training prevented him from drowning. Grissom's suborbital mission was so successful that NASA canceled a third mission that would have taken place before John Glenn's orbital flight on February 20, 1962.

Flight Duration: Fifteen Minutes and Thirty-Seven Seconds, Sub-Orbital Flight

Gemini 3


March 23, 1965

The first Gemini flight was Gemini 3, with astronauts Virgil Grissom and John Young aboard. On March 23, 1965, Gus Grissom served as command pilot on the first manned Gemini flight.

During the 3-orbit mission, the crew tested their ability to remain in space for longer periods of time than in flights during the Mercury Project. Astronauts Young and Grissom did a complete test of the Gemini spacecraft.

The Gemini 3 crew also obtained information regarding the effects of weightlessness on the astronauts and recorded their physiological reactions during the long duration flights of the Gemini Project.

These tests were in preparation for the lunar orbits of the Apollo Project. Grissom was named to serve as command pilot for the first 3-man Apollo flight.

Flight Duration: Four Hours, Fifty-Two Minutes, Thirty-One Seconds

Then Tragedy Struck

In Memory of Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee

Apollo 1

Apollo 1, the first manned mission in the Apollo Program was undergoing routine tests on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, on January 27, 1967. Suddenly, and without warning, a fire broke out inside the spacecraft, and almost instantly, the three astronauts aboard perished.

After the tragic fire, NASA delayed the Apollo program to take time to add safety features and to take precautions to prevent accidents like that from occurring on similar spacecraft. The fire aboard Apollo 1 started when sparks flew from electric wiring in the spacecraft's systems.

In the book entitled We Seven 1962, written by the first seven astronauts themselves, Grissom said,

"If my country decided that I was 1 of the better qualified people for this new mission, then I was proud and happy to help out."

Grissom also explained to a NASA psychiatrist that he was aware of the dangers of flight, but he saw no gain in worrying about them. Instead of being anxious about his upcoming space flight, he worried about doing a good job.

Gus Grissom was one of the people who understood the risks involved with anything that deals with progress. He gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life, to pave the way for astronauts to go to the Moon. However, the three astronauts of Apollo 1 did not die in vain.

After the tragedy, NASA took measures to reduce the danger of fire that included the use of noncombustible materials, wherever possible. Scientists modified the circuitry within the Apollo spacecraft, and placed metal troughs over all exposed areas, to avert damage to connected wiring.

Scientists also redesigned the hatch of the spacecraft, enabling it to be unlocked from the inside within five seconds. This would allow the crew to be able to escape within half a minute.

Click on the Apollo One patch to read the biographies of the Apollo One Crew.

Click on the patches to read about Gus Grissom's historic
spaceflights in more detail

Mercury/Liberty Bell- 4 patch  Gemini/Molly Brown-3 patch




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