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January 9, 2013

Author says 'Right Stuff' is wrong about Gus Grissom'

ANDERSON, Ind. — Indiana author and historian Ray E. Boomhower believes Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of the original American astronauts, has been lost in time and unfairly characterized over the years in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” and in the 1983 movie adaptation.

So Boomhower’s set out to correct the perception of Grissom as the astronaut who “screwed the pooch,” according to Wolfe, for blowing too soon the hatch off his suborbital Mercury spacecraft, Liberty Bell 7, causing water to flood and sink it.

Boomhower said that’s the purpose of his latest book, “Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut.”

“Unfortunately, Gus, although remembered fondly by people in Mitchell (Indiana, his hometown) and throughout the rest of the state, has the unfortunate legacy of being remembered by many as responsible for allowing his Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft to sink to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after the conclusion of his July 21, 1961, mission,” said Boomhower.

“Both Tom Wolfe’s book ‘The Right Stuff,’ and the movie of the same name, treat Grissom as the goat and infer that he panicked and purposely blew the hatch. That depiction is inaccurate — Grissom did not panic. The best indication of Grissom not being to blame is the fact that NASA cleared him of any wrongdoing and went ahead and selected him to command the first missions on both the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft.”

Grissom, the second American to fly in space, was 40 years old when he died, along with astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee, in a fire aboard Apollo 1 during a pre-launch test 46 years ago. Grissom was the command pilot of the spacecraft, scheduled to be the first manned mission of the lunar landing program.

Boomhower’s book has been published as part of the Indiana Historical Society Press’ Indiana Biography Series. The Anderson Herald Bulletin posed a few questions to the author:

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