Gus Grissom

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Gus Grissom : biography

April 3, 1926 – January 27, 1967

Spacesuit controversy

When the US Astronaut Hall of Fame opened in 1990 his family lent it the spacesuit worn by Grissom during Mercury 4 along with other personal artifacts belonging to the astronaut. In 2002 the museum went into bankruptcy and was taken over by a NASA contractor, whereupon the family asked for everything back. All the artifacts were returned to them except the spacesuit, which NASA claimed was government property. NASA insisted Grissom got authorization to use the spacesuit for a show and tell at his son’s school and never returned it, but some Grissom family members claimed the astronaut rescued the spacesuit from a scrap heap.

Family and background

Grissom was born in Mitchell, Indiana on April 3, 1926, the second child of Dennis and Cecile King Grissom. His father was a signalman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and his mother a homemaker. His older sister died shortly before his birth, and he was followed by three younger siblings, Wilma, Norman and Lowell.Boomhower, p. 40 As a child he attended the local Church of Christ where he remained a lifelong member and joined the Boy Scouts’ Troop 46. He was enrolled in public elementary schools and went on to attend Mitchell High School. Grissom met and befriended Betty Lavonne Moore at school through their extracurricular activities.Boomhower, pp. 43–45 He worked delivering newspapers for the Indianapolis Star and in a local meat market for his first jobs.Boomhower, p. 42

Grissom occasionally spent time at a local airport in Bedford, Indiana where he first became interested in flying. A local attorney who owned a small plane would take him on flights for a $1 fee and taught him the basics of flying an airplane.Boomhower, p. 47 World War II broke out while Grissom was still in high school, and he was eager to enlist upon graduation. Grissom enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces and completed an entrance exam in November 1943. He graduated from high school in 1944 and was inducted into the army at Fort Benjamin Harrison on August 8, 1944.Boomhower, p. 48 He was sent to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas for basic training after which he was assigned as a clerk at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas.Boomhower, p. 49

As the war neared its end, Grissom sought to be discharged. He married Betty Moore on July 6, 1945 while on leave, and secured his discharge in September.Boomhower, p. 50 He took a job at Carpenter Body Works, a local bus manufacturing business, and rented an apartment in Mitchell. However, he had trouble providing a sufficient income and was determined to attend college. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill for partial payment of his school tuition, Grissom enrolled at Purdue University in September 1946.Boomhower, p. 52 During his time in college, Betty returned to live with her parents and took a job at the Indiana Bell Telephone Company while he worked part-time as a cook at a local restaurant.Boomhower, p. 55 Grissom took summer classes to finish early and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1950.Boomhower, p. 56

Notes

Books

Grissom died while putting the finishing touches on Gemini: A Personal Account of Man’s Venture Into Space; he had been heavily involved in the engineering of the spacecraft. The final chapter is dated January 1967, a few days before Grissom’s death on the Apollo launch pad. According to editor Jacob Hay, the book’s final form was "reached with the approval of Mrs. Betty Grissom."

A book titled : "Seven Minus One: the Story of Astronaut Gus Grissom" was self-published in 1968 by Carl L. Chappell, Ph.D. through New Frontier Publishing Co. of Madison, Indiana and is probably the earliest biography of Col. Grissom.

Betty Grissom co-wrote a memoir with Henry Still, titled Starfall (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1974.)

A family-approved account of Grissom’s life appears in the 2003 book Fallen Astronauts by Colin Burgess and Kate Doolan.