Did you know that Lawrence County, Indiana is home to three United States astronauts? Kenneth D. Bowersox and Charles D. Walker both hail from Bedford, Indiana, and Mitchell, Indiana is the hometown of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom. Grissom is both a true hero, having been the second American to travel into space!
Head to Lawrence County and visit these unique attractions to learn more about the history and the men that impacted space travel as we know it.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom was the second American to go into space aboard the Mercury Liberty Bell 7. Everything about the 15-minute suborbital hop went smoothly until the landing. Upon returning to Earth, there was an issue with Grissom’s space capsule, causing it to sink. Luckily, Grissom was able to escape.
The Gemini III mission was the first manned flight using the two-person Gemini Spacecraft. Gus Grissom was the mission commander and John Young was the pilot. After his near drowning following the Mercury Liberty Bell 7 splashdown, Grissom christened his new craft the Molly Brown.
Margaret “Molly” Brown was a heroic survivor of the Titanic disaster and is often referred to as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Grissom’s cheeky reference to the incident embarrassed NASA officials. Afterwards, astronauts were prohibited from naming spacecraft. Located at the Grissom Memorial at Spring Mill State Park, visitors can learn all about Grissom’s life as well as view the capsule from the historic Molly Brown spacecraft.
In the Grissom Memorial at Spring Mill State Park resides an unusual corned beef sandwich with a very unique story. Lawrence County’s very own Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom as well as John Young were selected to participate in NASA’s first manned mission aboard the Gemini III. The astronauts aboard the spacecraft were tasked with testing out the new spacecraft machinery as well as the newly designed space food.
During the trip, Young sneakily pulled out a two-day-old corned beef sandwich from his pocket and started to eat it. Bringing unapproved food aboard a spacecraft is a serious violation of protocol, however Young and Grissom pulled off the famed sandwich incident. This was the first time that a member of NASA was given an official reprimand and is the reason as to why no other sandwiches have made it into space to this day.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom grew up in Lawrence County and his boyhood home is still here, opening its doors for space lovers, historians and families to go back in time to see how this famous astronaut grew up.
A Sweetgum Tree is located outside of Grissom’s Boyhood Home. This tree was grown from a seed which orbited the earth with Astronaut Charlie Walker, a native of Bedford, Indiana. The seed was then presented to the Grissom family by Walker.
The Grissom Monument is a 44-foot, 28-ton limestone statue of the Titan II Rocket that stands on the lawn of City Hall in Mitchell, Indiana. Hand-carved in the limestone base is the history of Gus Grissom’s military and NASA careers. Grissom was awarded the NASA distinguished service medal for his contribution to the advancement of human knowledge of technology and a demonstration of man’s capabilities in suborbital space flight.
Gus became the fourth person in history to receive the state’s highest military award when Governor Matthew E. Welsh presented him with Indiana’s distinguished service cross for his exceptional courage, ability and dedication to the service of others. Come take a stroll down memory lane at the Grissom Memorial and learn more about Grissom’s life and accomplishments.
NASA’s Apollo program changed forever in 1967 when a flash fire broke out inside Apollo I during a launch rehearsal test. A few astronauts including Grissom were trapped inside the spacecraft and died.
Although the sudden deaths were tragic, the improvements in astronaut safety after the incident allowed the program to continue without additional fatalities. Due to the safety changes, NASA was able to reach President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon in 1969.
The history of hero, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and early spacecraft travel is just waiting to be explored in Lawrence County!