Virgil Ivan Grissom (April 3, 1926 – January 27, 1967), (Lt Col, USAF), better known as Gus Grissom, was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and a United States Air Force pilot. He was the second American to fly in space and the first NASA astronaut to fly in space twice.
Grissom was killed along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (then known as Cape Kennedy), Florida. He was the first of the Mercury Seven to die. He was also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and, posthumously, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In 1958, Grissom received an official teletype message instructing him to report to an address in Washington, D.C. wearing civilian clothes. The message was classified "Top Secret" and Grissom was not to discuss its contents with anyone. Grissom discovered that he was one of 110 military test pilots whose credentials had earned them an invitation to learn more about the space program in general and Project Mercury in particular. Grissom liked the sound of the program, but knew that competition for the final spots would be fierce. Captain Grissom then underwent a series of physical and psychological tests and on April 13, 1959, was notified that he had been chosen as one of the seven Mercury astronauts.
On July 21, 1961, Grissom was pilot of the second Project Mercury flight, Mercury-Redstone 4, popularly known as Liberty Bell 7. This was a suborbital flight which lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. After splashdown, emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired and blew the hatch off, causing water to flood into the spacecraft. Quickly exiting through the open hatch and into the ocean, Grissom was nearly drowned as water began filling his spacesuit. A nearby helicopter tried to lift and recover the spacecraft, but the flooding spacecraft became too heavy, and it was ultimately cut loose before sinking.
In early 1964 Alan Shepard was grounded after being diagnosed with Ménière's disease and Grissom was designated command pilot for Gemini 3, the first manned Project Gemini flight, which flew on March 23, 1965. This mission would make him the first NASA astronaut to fly into space twice. This flight made three revolutions of the Earth and lasted 4 hours, 52 minutes and 31 seconds. Grissom was one of the eight pilots of the NASA paraglider research vehicle.
Grissom was backup command pilot for Gemini 6A when he shifted to the Apollo program and was assigned as Command Pilot of the first manned mission AS-204, with Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. The three men named their spacecraft Apollo 1. The mission failed tragically before its planned February 21, 1967 launch when the Command Module interior caught fire and burned on January 27, 1967 during a pre-launch test on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, killing all three men.
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