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Full Coverage: Grissom spacesuit tug-of-war

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Fifteen-year-old wants spacesuit moved

August 29, 2005 -- Connecticut schoolgirl Amanda Meyer is in Florida today, hoping to persuade the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame to relinquish a Mercury spacesuit that itself is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.

Meyer, 15, under the self-described inspiration of the late astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom's family, has collected over 2,000 signatures on a petition she started to 'save the suit' Grissom donned for his 1961 Mercury-Redstone 4 space flight. The silver pressure garment, contests Meyer, needs to be "returned" to the Grissoms, rather than stay with the Smithsonian, which holds the title from NASA to all retired flown spacesuits.

Meyer, who has said she hopes to be an astronaut herself someday, based her petition on the contact she has had with Scott Grissom. He claims that his father brought the suit to their home to prevent NASA from discarding of it, a situation NASA contests, citing a handwritten agreement that documents that Gus Grissom borrowed the spacesuit for his sons' school show-and-tell presentation in mid-1965.

The Grissom family held onto the spacesuit after the 1967 Apollo 1 fire took the astronaut's life until 1990, when they placed it on display at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida. The Hall was founded by the six surviving Mercury astronauts.

In late 2002, the Grissoms attempted to assert that the spacesuit was their property after the Hall was acquired by the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Their claim was rejected by NASA and the suit remained on display.

As a compromise, Meyer wants the spacesuit moved to the Grissom Memorial Museum located in the astronaut's hometown of Mitchell, Indiana. While some Grissom family members have reportedly expressed their support of the suggested move, widow Betty Grissom is said to prefer its display at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Orlando.

Regardless the outcome of her meeting today, Meyer may find opposition from the Smithsonian Institution, which has said the spacesuit will remain at the Hall of Fame until at least the end of the year, when their loan agreement is due for renewal. Even if the Institution decides to move it, the suit may go to a museum other than Grissom's hometown.



Helmet rests easy while suit fight rages


January 20, 2003 -- While everyone's attention has been focused on Florida and the fate of Virgil "Gus" Grissom's Mercury spacesuit (currently residing at the Astronaut Hall of Fame), his Liberty Bell 7 helmet has been resting quietly in Indiana.

According to an article in Sunday's Hoosier Times, a plaque inside the helmet's glass display case at Spring Mill State Park explains that it was donated by Grissom's parents, Dennis and Cecile. How the family came into possession of the helmet is not exactly known, but the Park's manager believes it was a gift from NASA after the Apollo 1 fire.

Not so, says Max Ary, director of the Omniplex Science Center in Oklahoma City, who suggests that the helmet was probably taken by the astronaut at the same time as the suit. Ary was also able to confirm that the serial numbers on the helmet in Indiana matched the flight unit.

Though NASA had previously declared ownership of the helmet when it was believed to be residing at the Hall of Fame, it is not yet clear how the space agency will choose to act, if at all.



Grissoms return home, sans spacesuit

November 21, 2002 -- Betty Grissom and her son Scott are returning home, having collected the 15 artifacts they loaned to the Astronaut Hall of Fame but foregoing for now the recovery of their husband/father's Mercury spacesuit.

The Grissoms' lawyer, Jim Fallace met with NASA and Delaware North representatives yesterday to discuss the family's concerns. The 90-minute meeting held at Fallace's offices led to the parties agreeing to leave the spacesuit at the Hall of Fame while the issue of owernship is explored further, according to a report by the Orlando Sentinel.



Grissoms arrive at HOF, lawyers meet

November 20, 2002 -- An anticipated confrontation between the family of Virgil "Gus" Grissom and NASA officials failed to materialize yesterday after lawyers from both sides agreed to meet today. In contention is the ownership of the late astronaut's silver Mercury spacesuit, currently on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

NASA spokesman Robert Jacobs told collectSPACE that the agency has located the handwritten loan agreement between Grissom and NASA for use of the suit. Grissom borrowed the suit for his son's show-and-tell presentation in mid-1965.

The suit remained in the custody of the Grissom family two years later when the Apollo 1 fire claimed the life of three astronauts including Grissom. NASA was aware the suit was being well taken care for and saw no reason to request its return, said Jacobs.

When the Astronaut Hall of Fame opened in 1990, the Grissom family delivered the suit, along with other artifacts for display as part of an exhibit honoring the astronaut. When the Hall was sold this year to the same company responsible for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the Grissoms withdrew their loan.

In a letter dated November 8 to its new custodians, NASA advised "the Mercury 'Liberty Bell 7' spacesuit, boots, gloves and helmet worn by Virgil I. 'Gus' Grissom are the sole property of the U.S. Government and that Delaware North Parks Services of Spaceport, Inc., should not release these items to any parties without written direction from NASA."

The agency has no objection to the return of the other artifacts loaned by the Grissoms. Staff at the Hall of Fame have prepared the items for return to the family.

collectSPACE has learned that among the artifacts to be returned are:
  • flight log
  • guide to rocket engines
  • Mercury 7 tie tac
  • charm-mounted dime flown aboard Liberty Bell 7
  • lapel pin flown aboard Liberty Bell 7
  • Friendship 7 heatshield core sample
  • Gemini-Titan 3 sandwich replica
  • Apollo 1 patch
  • Apollo 1 gold coin
  • hard hat
  • stetson hat
  • (2) Air Force Medals
  • Distinguished Service Medal
  • flag used to drape Grissom's casket at Arlington National Cemetary
Grissom's widow and son have stated it is their belief that NASA had a deliberate hand in the death of their husband/ father. Betty Grissom withdrew the artifacts to prevent what she described as the agency prospering from its display.



Grissom artifacts pulled from Hall of Fame


November 19, 2002 -- When the Astronaut Hall of Fame reopens after renovations, it will be missing artifacts that spanned the career of one its first inductees.

The widow of Virgil "Gus" Grissom has withdrawn the loan of her husband's effects in objection to the recent acquisition of the Hall of Fame by Delaware North Park Services of Spaceport, Inc.

In addition to medals, patches, and even a replica of a sandwich flown aboard Gemini 3, Betty Grissom has demanded return of the Mercury 4 pressure suit, leaving her at odds with NASA.

The space agency insists that they never released ownership of the suit, despite it being in the custody of the Grissom family since mid-1965. NASA loaned Gus Grissom the suit to share with his son's classmates and he never returned it.

In 1990, Grissom's family delivered the suit (with helmet, gloves, and boots) to the Hall of Fame.

Grissom's son, Scott posted his displeasure at NASA's attempts to assert ownership to an Internet newsgroup dealing with space history.

"Why steal a space suit from a widow who gets $1200/month," wrote Grissom. "I guess it's because they can."

This is not the first time the Grissoms have confronted NASA. On his website, Scott has called for a new investigation into the cause of the Apollo 1 fire which claimed his father's life.

"Scott now believes NASA knew his father died from an act of sabotage and deliberately covered it up in its race for the moon," explains the site, apollo1.info.

That same belief lead Betty Grissom's efforts to prevent the space agency from benefiting from the artifacts. The Hall of Fame's new owner, Delaware North operates the visitor complex for NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Both mother and son were expected to arrive at the Titusville, Florida-based Astronaut Hall of Fame Tuesday to collect Grissom's possessions. NASA plans to return all but the spacesuit to the Grissoms.

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