Purdue Alum gets his own Hill on Mars

The Apollo 1 Astronauts were memorialized today with naming of the visible hills on the horizon of the Spirit rover landing site.

One particular Astronaut on the Apollo 1 mission was a Purdue grad and I’ve had classes in Grissom hall :) I thought I’d so a teeny bit of research on Gus and tell everyone a little bit about him.

Gus Grissom graduated from Purdue in 1950 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He served in the Korean conflict and the war he continued to train and fly. Later he found out he was one of 110 millitary test pilots who qualified for and invitation to learn more about the United States Space Program.

In April of 1959 Gus found out that he’d been selected as one of the seven Mercury project astronauts. Grissom didn’t get to be the first person space, or even the first American in space. He was the second American and the third human to experience sub-orbital flight. His flight proved that Alan Shepard’s flight wasn’t a fluke.

His flight was fairly uneventful and an absolute success, however, once he had splashed down he had a few problems:

Grissom was lying in his couch, waiting to receive final confirmation that it was time for him to blow the hatch and exit the spacecraft “when suddenly, the hatch blew off with a dull thud”. (24) Water flooded the cabin. Grissom automatically threw off his helmet, grabbed the sill of the hatch, hauled himself out of the sinking capsule and swam furiously to get away from the spacecraft. The capsule had been equipped with a special dye marker package which would spew out its bright green contents in order to help recovery vehicles locate the spacecraft once it splashed down. The package was attached to the capsule by a set of lines. Once he was in the water, Grissom got tangled up in those lines and thus remained attached to the sinking spacecraft. He finally managed to extricate himself and swam away from the capsule. When the recovery chopper finally hooked on to the spacecraft, Grissom figured that both he and Liberty Bell 7 were home free.

Liberty Bell 7, his capsule ended up sinking into the Atlantic and Gus almost met the same fate:

Unaware of the difficulty Grissom was having in staying afloat, none of the helicopters surrounding him were dropping him a life line. Their rotor blades were churning up the surface of the water, making it necessary for Grissom to swim even harder to keep from going under. He took a salty swill of the Atlantic with every wave that washed over his head. As exhaustion set in, he thought, “Well, you’ve gone through the whole flight, and now you’re going to sink right here in front of all these people.” (27) Fear gave way to anger as he tried once again to wave for help, but no one seemed to respond. Finally, a third helicopter approached and dropped Grissom a horse collar.

Gus went on to command a successful Gemini mission:

“I was concentrating on our spacecraft’s performance, when suddenly John asked me, ‘You care for a corned beef sandwich, skipper?’ If I could have fallen out of my couch, I would have. Sure enough, he was holding an honest-to-john corned beef sandwich.” (46) John had managed to sneak the deli sandwich, which was one of Grissom’s favorites into his pocket. As Gus sampled the treat, tiny bits of rye bread began floating around the pristine cabin and the crew was just about knocked over by the pungent aroma of corned beef wafting through the small confines of the spacecraft. “After the flight our superiors at NASA let us know in no uncertain terms that non-man-rated corned beef sandwiches were out for future space missions. But John’s deadpan offer of this strictly non-regulation goodie remains one of the highlights of our flight for me.”

In 1966 NASA announced that Gus would command the first Apollo mission. A number of engineering and production problems stalled the mission, but the mission persisted and the crew was slated to blast off on January 27th 1967. Apollo one experienced a catasrophic failure that day and the entire crew died due to an ignition of the pure oxygen in the main cabin.

The fire which claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee stunned the nation and rocked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The disaster had the potential to bring a permanent halt to American efforts in space exploration. Rather than bury its head in the sand, NASA launched a full-scale investigation of the fire, and voluntarily put the entire Apollo program, including its administration, policies and procedures under the scrutiny of a review board. Based on the board’s findings, NASA rolled up its sleeves and went to work to resolve the problems that had been identified. A successful failure is a mission which fails to reach its objectives and yet still achieves an element of success. Apollo I never left the launch pad. However, the information gained from this fatal mission paved the way for a totally redesigned Apollo spacecraft, eleven Apollo space flights and six lunar landings. Although Grissom, White and Chaffee never walked on the moon, their sacrifice helped to make it possible for us collectively to take “one giant leap for mankind”. (1)

Summarized from This Document , NASA