Astronaut Was Murdered
from TPDL 1999-Feb-11,
by Christopher Ruddy:
Apollo Astronaut Was Murdered, Son Charges Virgil I. "Gus"
Grissom, the astronaut slated to be the first man to walk on the moon, was
murdered, his son has charged in the February 16 edition of STAR magazine.
In another stunning development, a lead NASA investigator has charged the
agency engaged in a cover-up of the true cause of the catastrophe that
killed Grissom and two other astronauts.
The tabloid exclusive by Steve Herz reports that Scott Grissom, 48, has
gone public with the family's long held belief that their father was
purposefully killed during Apollo I.
The January 27, 1967, Apollo I mission was a simulated launch in
preparation for an actual lunar flight.
NASA concluded the Apollo I deaths of Grissom, as well as astronauts
Edward H. White and Roger Chafee, were the result of an explosive fire
that enveloped the pure oxygen atmosphere of the space capsule. NASA
investigators could not identify what caused the spark, but wrote the
catastrophe off as an accident.
"My father's death was no accident, he was murdered," Grissom, a
commercial pilot, told STAR.
Grissom said he recently was granted access to the charred capsule and
discovered a "fabricated" metal plate located behind a control
panel switch. The switch controlled the capsules' electrical power source
from an outside source to the ship's batteries. Grissom argues that the
placement of the metal plate was an act of sabotage. When the one of the
astronauts toggled the switch to transfer power to the ship's batteries, a
spark was created igniting a fireball.
Clark Mac Donald, a McDonnell-Douglas engineer hired by NASA to
investigate the fire, offered corroborating evidence. Breaking more than
three decades of silence, Mac Donald alleges that he determined an
electrical short caused by the change over to battery power had caused the
He says that NASA destroyed his report and interview tapes in an effort to
stem public criticism of the space program.
"I have agonized for 31 years about revealing the truth but I didn't
want to hurt NASA's image or cause trouble," Mac Donald told the
paper. "But I can't let one more day go by without the truth being
Grissom's widow, Betty, now 71, told STAR she agrees with her son's claim
that her husband had been murdered.
"I believe Scott has found the key piece of evidence to prove NASA
knew all along what really happened but covered up to protect funding for
the race to the moon."
Scott Grissom told STAR the motive for his father's killing may have been
related to NASA's desire not have his father be the first man to walk on
the moon because of criticism leveled at Grissom in 1961 after his Gemini
capsule, Liberty 7, sunk in the Atlantic.
Critics of Grissom, including novelist Tom Wolfe, have claimed Grissom
panicked when his space capsule landed in the ocean, and he prematurely
pulled an explosive charge to open the ship's hatch, causing it to sink.
Fellow astronauts, however, gave Grissom the benefit of the doubt for
several reasons. Grissom was a decorated Korean war pilot who had flown
nearly 100 combat missions. He was a courageous man not known to panic.
There was also evidence that the explosive device on the hatch could
accidentally blow without being pulled -- a fact that led NASA to remove
such devices from future spacecraft.
Also, had Grissom pulled the explosive release on the hatch, his hand or
arm should have had powder and bruise marks. Neither were found.
Grissom, one of the original Mercury seven, was the senior astronaut when
the Apollo missions began.
Among the astronauts, Grissom was the most critical of the problem-plagued
Apollo program, and the main Apollo contractor, North American Aviation.
Shortly before his death, Grissom had taken a large lemon and hung it
around the space capsule as the press looked on. He had suggested publicly
that the project could never be accomplished on time.
The Associated Press reported, "`Pretty slim' was the way [Grissom]
put his Apollo's chances of meeting its mission requirements."
The Grissom family had reason to doubt the official NASA ruling from the
beginning. Even before Apollo I, Grissom had received death threats which
his family believed emanated from within the space program.
The threats were serious enough that he was put under Secret Service
protection and had been moved from his home to a secure safe house.
According to his wife, Grissom had warned her that "if there is ever
a serious accident in the space program, it's likely to be me."
The Apollo I disaster led to a series of Congressional hearings into the
incident and NASA. During the hearings, one launch pad inspector, Thomas
Baron, sharply criticized NASA's handling of the incident and testified
that the astronauts attempted to escape the capsule earlier than
Baron was fired soon after giving the testimony, and died, along with his
wife, when his car was struck by a train. Authorities ruled the deaths as
During the Congressional hearings, Senator Walter Mondale questioned the
efficacy of manned space programs. Manned space flights were opposed by
many of the leading space scientists at the time, including Drs. James Van
Allen and Thomas Gold.