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Gus Grissom Spacecraft Found Intact

May 03, 1999|From Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Lost at sea for 38 years, astronaut Gus Grissom's Mercury capsule was found over the weekend by an underwater salvage team that had been searching for the spacecraft 300 miles offshore.

Liberty Bell 7 is still 3 miles deep in the Atlantic.

The cable to a remotely operated rover used to identify and photograph the capsule snapped Saturday night because of the rough sea, and the rover sank. The salvagers are returning to Port Canaveral for new equipment and will have to wait several weeks before going back to recover the spacecraft.

But at least they know now where it is, and they're thrilled about Saturday's discovery.

"It looks to be in beautiful condition and certainly capable of being recovered," expedition leader Curt Newport said Sunday by phone from the ship, the Needham Tide.

The only U.S. spacecraft ever lost following a successful mission, the capsule is still shiny in spots with an intact window and "Liberty Bell 7" clearly printed beneath it. Even the fake crack painted on the exterior to replicate the Liberty Bell is visible, as are the singe marks left by the explosives that blew out the hatch after splashdown on July 21, 1961.

Liberty Bell 7 sank following Grissom's 15-minute suborbital flight, the nation's second manned space shot. Explosive bolts on the hatch detonated prematurely, and helicopter rescuers were unable to lift the spacecraft from the sea.

Grissom nearly drowned but was pulled to safety. He insisted until his death in the 1967 Apollo launch pad fire that he'd done nothing wrong.

The capsule is to be restored by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, where it eventually will be displayed under an agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Smithsonian Institution.

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