WATCH: New Evidence Shows Gus Grissom Did Not Sink His Liberty Bell 7 Spacecraft 60 Years Ago

By  //  July 25, 2021


WATCH: Analysis of the original footage of the Liberty Bell 7 recovery operation from July 21st, 1961. HD footage has been enhanced and stabilized. Movement close to the hatch has been identified in 17 consecutive frames covering 0.7 seconds in an upward and outward direction from the hatch area. The footage is shown at approximately half speed and is played forwards then backward twice. This is part of a wider analysis and article written by myself and George Leopold for the 60th anniversary of the flight, which hopes to shed light on one of NASA’s most enduring mysteries. Thanks also to Stephen Slater for the original footage.

Careful analysis of the recovery film showed it was static electricity that doomed the Liberty Bell 7.

( – It’s one of the great mysteries of the early space age. How did Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom, after a near-perfect flight on just the second U.S. space mission, inadvertently “blow” the escape hatch prematurely on his Liberty Bell 7 capsule, causing it to fill with water and sink in the Atlantic? In fact, did Grissom blow the hatch? Or was some technical glitch to blame?

Grissom himself insisted he hadn’t accidentally triggered the explosive bolts designed to open the hatch during his ocean recovery. His NASA colleagues, by and large, believed him.

Years later, Apollo flight director Gene Kranz told historians Francis French and Colin Burgess, “If Gus says he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it.”

And, as writer George Leopold points out in his 2016 biography, Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom, NASA would later pick Grissom for the first shakedown flights of its Gemini and Apollo spacecraft—hardly what you’d expect if the agency had lost confidence in him.

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A U.S. Navy helicopter attempts to pull the Liberty Bell spacecraft from the water. This gallery takes you inside the nearly fatal mission. (NASA image)
AT PORT CANAVERAL: After 38 years on the bottom of the ocean, Liberty Bell 7 had seen better days. (NASA image)
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