Search This Site:   

Virgil Grissom

Astronaut

Virgil Ivan Grissom (April 3, 1926 - January 27, 1967), (Lt Col, USAF), better known as Gus Grissom, was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and a United States Air Force pilot. He was the second American to fly in space and the first NASA astronaut to fly in space twice.

Grissom was killed along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (then known as Cape Kennedy), Florida. He was the first of the Mercury Seven to die. He was also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and, posthumously, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Grissom was born in Mitchell, Indiana on April 3, 1926, the second child of Dennis and Cecile King Grissom. His father was a signalman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and his mother a homemaker. His older sister died shortly before his birth, and he was followed by three younger siblings, Wilma, Norman and Lowell. As a child he attended the local Church of Christ where he remained a lifelong member and joined the Boy Scouts' Troop 46. He was enrolled in public elementary schools and went on to attend Mitchell High School. Grissom met and befriended Betty Lavonne Moore at school through their extracurricular activities. He worked delivering newspapers for the Indianapolis Star and in a local meat market for his first jobs.

Grissom occasionally spent time at a local airport in Bedford, Indiana where he first became interested in flying. A local attorney who owned a small plane would take him on flights for a $1 fee and taught him the basics of flying an airplane. World War II broke out while Grissom was still in high school, and he was eager to enlist upon graduation. Grissom enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces and completed an entrance exam in November 1943. He graduated from high school in 1944 and was inducted into the army at Fort Benjamin Harrison on August 8, 1944. He was sent to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas for basic training after which he was assigned as a clerk at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas.

As the war neared its end, Grissom sought to be discharged. He married Betty Moore on July 6, 1945 while on leave, and secured his discharge in September. He took a job in carpentry at a local business and rented an apartment in Mitchell. However, he had trouble providing a sufficient income and was determined to attend college. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill for partial payment of his school tuition, Grissom enrolled at Purdue University in September 1946. During his time in college, Betty returned to live with her parents and took a job at the Indiana Bell Telephone Company while he worked part time as a cook at a local restaurant. Grissom took summer classes to finish early and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1950.