Astronaut of the Month - Gus Grissom

Virgil (Gus) Grissom was born on April 3, 1926 in Indiana. Intent on flying, he became an aviation cadet for the Army Air Force during his senior year of highschool. After graduating, he officially joined the Army Air Force in 1944. But though he received basic flight training, the end of WWII was looming. He was discharged in 1945, having spent the majority of his service as a clerk. 

Undeterred, Grissom went to Purdue, where he received a degree in mechanical engineering in 1950. He then enlisted again, this time in the Air Force. This time around, he not only completed training, but got his wings and a commission. In 1952 he served in Korea, where he flew 100 combat missions and asked for more. Denied, he came home and served as a pilot instructor and test pilot. He also earned a second degree, this time in aeromechanics.

He fought hard to become one of the US’s first astronauts, officially joining the Mercury 7 in 1959. HIs first mission was aboard the Liberty Bell 7, on July 21, 1961, on a sub-orbital flight that took just over 15 minutes. His return to earth was slightly marred by the emergency hatch explosive bolts blowing unexpectedly. As water poured into the capsule, Grissom was forced to evacuate before rescue crews arrived. His craft sank and was not recovered until the 90s. 

Grissom spent the next several years working with engineers on the Gemini craft, even inventing a part used for docking by both Gemini and Apollo craft. His next space mission would be Gemini 3, nicknamed Molly Brown as a reference to the fate of his first craft. On March 23, 1965, he and John Young spent nearly 5 hours orbiting the Earth. 

After transferring to the Apollo program, Grissom was assigned to command it’s first mission. Along with Ed White and Richard Chaffee, he began training, but he was concerned by the numerous problems with the simulator and craft. Despite complaints, NASA pushed forward, a decision that ultimately took the lives of all three astronauts during a training exercise. This tragedy would lead to a complete overhaul not only of the Apollo craft and spacesuits, but the procedures of NASA itself.