By Jacqui Poor
The stars aligned in the Historic mining town of Bonne Terre, Missouri for the Grand Opening of the Grissom Center. Space Royalty including NASA Astronauts, a Shuttle Flight Director, The “Mercury Six” engineers and hundreds of locals and tourists joined Space Museum owner Earl Mullins and the Grissom Family for the museum ribbon cutting ceremony. “We’re honoring Gus Grissom, one of our American Icons, and his sacrifice and his family’s sacrifice for our nation. In the words of Gus, “Space Exploration is worth the risk of life” and he found that out first hand,” Proclaimed Earl Mullins during the ceremony.
The museum’s name is fitting for this American hero who flew 100 missions as an Air Force fighter jet pilot, became an aeronautical engineer and a fearless test fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force.
In 1959, Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom was selected as one of the first seven Astronauts for NASA’s Project Mercury. He piloted the second American manned suborbital Mercury “Liberty Bell” Spacecraft in 1961; orbited the Earth three times with Jim Young in Gemini II “Molly Brown” in which Gus became the first NASA Astronaut to fly in space twice. Just two years later Grissom was named commander of the first manned Apollo 1 mission headed to the moon with fellow Astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Unfortunately, their aircraft never left the earth as all three astronauts quickly died in a test launch pad fire in 1967.
“The fire was the cruel irony of the early space race. We were in a hurry trying to beat the Russians to the Moon. And that’s what Gus wanted to do and he worked to the end of his life to get us there.”
Because we knew what happened on the ground, we were able to fix the spacecraft, made it much more safer. We ended up rising from the ashes literally and built a great space machine that took 24 human beings to the moon and most importantly, brought them back,” Reflects George Leopold, Author of the insightful Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life & Times of Gus Grissom.
The Grissom center houses numerous exhibits that tell the story of American Space exploration. We also hear many stories from the Astronauts in attendance. “The first time I launched into space, I thought I knew exactly what to expect and yet about 15 seconds after lift off, I caught myself thinking, “Ross What are you doing here?” It was a very dynamic, very, a lot of vibration and noise and shaking, but it was something I came back for 6 more times, so it wasn’t too bad,” reflected Col Jerry Ross who is the World Record Holder for seven Space Shuttle Launches. Astronaut Linda Godwin, shared
her experience being a woman astronaut. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to do that and I would chose to do it again and it was
fine being a woman there. I had all good experiences. I’m very happy that today we have more and more women in the space program.”
The successful event raised awareness to what this unique museum has to offer. “It’s really exciting for a community like this to have such a gem of scientific knowledge and space exploration. I got to see some hardware just what I got to use in space so it’s pretty cool,” comments Col. Jerry Ross. For Grissom Center hours and more info visit: http://www.space-mo.org/