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Recovered 1961 Space Capsule Brought Ashore

July 22, 1999|From Associated Press

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — After 38 years at the bottom of the sea, Gus Grissom's Mercury capsule was brought ashore Wednesday on the anniversary of the flight that made him the second American in space.

"It brings back a lot of emotion," said Lowell Grissom, the late astronaut's 65-year-old brother, who welcomed the salvage team back. "This was the only craft that Gus didn't bring home, and he would be extremely pleased that Liberty Bell 7 is back."

Liberty Bell 7 arrived by ship at Cape Canaveral one day after being pulled from the Atlantic in remarkably good condition.

Grissom made a 15-minute suborbital flight aboard Liberty 7 on July 21, 1961, but the 7 1/2-foot aluminum and titanium capsule sank after splashdown when its hatch blew open prematurely and it filled with water.

Grissom narrowly escaped drowning and insisted until his death in a 1967 Apollo launch pad fire that he did nothing to cause the hatch to blow.

The privately financed salvage team did not find the capsule's hatch, which could have shed light on whether its explosive bolts malfunctioned or whether Grissom activated them prematurely.

On Wednesday, a steel drum containing the capsule was lifted by crane onto the dock and opened. Through the capsule's open hatch could be seen dangling wires and a pile of corroded debris, along with gray and green fabric straps that held Grissom and his parachute in place during the flight.

"This is pleasure," said Max Ary, president of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, said as he sprayed water onto the capsule to keep the chunks of corrosion from hardening in the sun.

The capsule will be taken to the Hutchinson, Kan., space center to be taken apart, cleaned and put on display.

Ary showed off two of the seven Mercury dimes that were still inside the spacecraft. Grissom had taken them aboard as souvenirs.

Not everyone was pleased.

Betty Grissom, the astronaut's widow, said once more that she is against the restoration.

"At one time we thought this was great, but how it's being handled is--no," she said from her Houston home. "This restoring is just out of control."

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