He was not only the second American astronaut to fly in space, but he was the first American to do it twice.
Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom would have turned 95 on April 3. In honor of his birthday, a celebration is taking place Saturday at The Space Museum in Bonne Terre. Refreshments of cake and ice cream will be served.
Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for students. The museum’s regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The festivities take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Special activities include viewing of a shuttle launch, stomp rockets, roving science demos and tours by Earl Mullins, founder and president of The Space Museum.
Special guests who will be in attendance at Saturday’s event include Grissom’s brother Lowell and family; Dean Purdy and Earl Robb, members of Mercury 6 and board members at The Space Museum; and Lou Mavros, who was project lead for space shuttle ground support equipment.
Grissom was born on April 3, 1926, in Indiana. He joined the U.S. Air Force after high school graduation. After he graduated from college, he rejoined the Air Force and later became a pilot. He also served in World War II and the Korean War.
“We now have Gus’ space suit, and everyone will love our new team member Max Q,” said Mullins. “He is a humanoid robot everyone immediately identifies with.”
Mullins said the goal is to make this celebration of honoring Grissom’s birthday an annual event.
Later during his career, Grissom was selected to go to space aboard the Liberty Bell 7. He became a member of the Mercury Seven astronaut team when he was selected by NASA as one of seven Project Mercury astronauts to be the first American in space.
“Gus was our second American astronaut and in the words of the other astronauts, he was the ‘astronauts’ astronaut,’” said Mullins.
Mullins explained that Grissom is “somewhat the patron saint” of The Space Museum due to close connections they have with the Grissom family.
According to Mullins, Grissom was one of the seven original astronauts. But because he was so good at what he did, he was chosen to command the first flights of Gemini and Apollo.
“Had he not died in the Apollo 1 fire, it is believed he would have been first on the moon,” said Mullins.
Grissom died in 1967 with two other astronauts during a pre-flight fire during a training exercise.
Mullins said it has always been his pleasure to “laud Gus’ praises, but this Saturday will be special because we get to give back a little to his family for all they have done for the museum.”
Mullins added, “Any day you can celebrate and share cake and ice cream with others is a great day.”
Monetary donations to the museum in honor of Grissom are welcomed at Saturday’s event and can be mailed to 116 E. School Street, Bonne Terre, MO 63628. The museum is located in Heritage Hall.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal