On Saturday morning, a crowd of people from all across Missouri and some from even farther gathered to witness the grand opening of the Grissom Center addition to the Space Museum.
Space Museum President Earl Mullins spoke in front of the building at the event called “Show Me Space.”
“This is not my museum; it is not our administration's museum; it’s not even Bonne Terre’s Museum. This is a regional thing. This is for all of you. We want this to make a difference to our community and to our region.”
Named after Gus Grissom, one of the seven original astronauts in NASA’s first space exploration program called Project Mercury, the Grissom Center hosts a large amount of equipment donated from NASA to inspire the public and spark curiosity.
In attendance at the ribbon cutting were members of Grissom family, who Mullins introduced with a quote by Gus, “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
Grissom's son Scott, and his brother Lowell snipped the red tape lining the door to applause from an audience eager to tour the museum and listen to the scheduled speakers.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon, after ticket holders browsed the museum, they could head upstairs to get autographs from the panel.
This included astronauts: Dr. Linda Godwin, Charles Walker, Richard Richards, Jerry Ross, and Thomas Akers. Godwin, Richards, and Akers were born or grew up in Missouri.
“Dick Richards was born in Florida, but lived in Missouri and is an avid Cardinals, so we’ll forgive him,” Mullins joked to the crowd.
Ross was distinguished as “NASA’s frequent flier,” according to Mullins.
Also on the panel were Kelso, a former shuttle flight director; Ivey, who hosts and helped create an award-winning TV series called “Janet’s Planet” and is also on the board of the National Space Society; and Leopold, a science writer and author of a biography on Gus Grissom.
From noon to 1 p.m. ticket holders ate lunch in the cafeteria above the museum, provided by the Samaritan Lodge.
At 1 p.m. Mullins greeted the ticket holders to a nearly full auditorium at Bonne Terre City Hall a couple blocks away. The speakers and panelists would present until 4 p.m.
“So what do you think?” Mullins asked.
The audience cheered.
“I want to make something very clear. This is a team effort,” Mullins continued. “We have had a lot of people involved here tonight since I started here in 2003 with the idea of creating a museum.
“The first person that knew that was [Gus’s brother] Lowell Grissom. And Lowell looked at me with disdain. Then I told him I was gonna put it in Bonne Terre, Missouri. He said, ‘where?’
“Lowell said there was no money in it, and you know what? He was 100 percent correct. But it’s not about the money. It’s about you. It’s about our future. It’s about doing noble things. It’s about more than the artifacts of mankind’s greatest adventure.”
Mullins corrected himself. “Excuse me, humankind’s greatest adventure.”
“It’s about a way of thinking,” he continued. “It’s about thinking out of the box. Looking at what can be. Figuring out how to do it. Overcoming the obstacles and just making it happen.
“[Astronaut] Jim Lovell probably said it better than anybody I know: ‘It wasn’t a miracle that took us to the moon, we just decided to go.’”
Mullins introduced Kelso, the 35-year veteran of flight control. He delivered a humorous presentation about “things we have flown in space, and why.”
Kelso displayed a slideshow presentation mostly about animals and insects that have been sent to space, and how they responded or adapted to having no gravity.
A notable story was about a Missouri pig farmer who helped the aerospace engineers identify an effortless problem in their pig experiments.
The final anecdote was about mysterious holes speckling the external tank of a space shuttle. The perpetrator: a woodpecker.
Mullins thanked all of the contributors to the grand opening, and asked for a moment of silence for the recently deceased Bob Schepp of project Mercury. Living members of “the Mercury 6” stood and were cheered.
Ivey of “Janet’s Planet” introduced and moderated the panel to follow.
“[Mullins] did such a great job of engaging a group of international students that I had to know him. That’s why I’m here today,” Ivey said.
The panelists told stories about space flight and how they became astronauts. They highlighted educators in their lives who helped cultivate their interests in science or space.
Leopold said that Gus “was a hero, and is beloved in this country.”
Ross delivered a story about the beauty of space flight from his book. “It was one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever seen,” he said about an aurora from inside.
"On several cases I was able to count as many 13 distinct layers of the atmosphere, like layers of a cake stacked on top of each other."
Ross was asked to give closing remarks.
“People unfortunately today, if they don’t get immediate gratification or success, they move on to something. I think that hurts our country because you have a lot of very talented people that won’t make the contribution that they are capable of."
Mullins asked the panel if they would go to space again, to which they replied “of course.”
Ivey closed by quoting John F. Kennedy from 1962:
“We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
She ended saying, “go forth and do hard things, and be that generation that takes us back to the moon and to mars.”