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NASA, Grissom widow spar over spacesuit

From John Zarrella
CNN Miami Bureau Chief

Gus Grissom before his 1961 flight
Gus Grissom before his 1961 flight

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TITUSVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- Relatives the late Gus Grissom picked up more than a dozen of the astronaut's personal belongings from a Florida space museum, but a legal dispute with NASA prevented them from reclaiming his spacesuit.

In 1961, Grissom, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, became the second American in space. Forty-one years later, the shimmering silver suit he wore on the Liberty Bell flight is at the center of an ownership battle.

Since 1991, some of Grissom's personal items had been on loan to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. But the family decided recently that they wanted them back after a management change at the Titusville museum, a private operation near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Many of the effects were returned last week, including a Stetson hat given to Grissom by President Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. flag that draped Gus' coffin.

But the space agency did not give back the spacesuit.

"It's always been valuable to us and now over time it is now valuable to them (NASA) again," said Scott Grissom, son of the late astronaut.

After bankruptcy proceedings earlier this year, the Hall of Fame was turned over to Delaware North Park Services, the same business that oversees the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex for NASA.

"The larger question is one of historical significance. This is something that is so important that it really belongs to the people," said Rick Hensler, spokesperson for the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.

Betty Grissom, widow of Gus, believes otherwise.

"Gus did give his life for this space program. And I think he deserves at least that, or the family deserves the honor of at least putting their two cents worth into where it is displayed."

The Liberty Bell 7 was salvaged from an ocean depth of 15,000 feet in 1999
The Liberty Bell 7 was salvaged from an ocean depth of 15,000 feet in 1999

NASA officials would not officially comment, but said the suit has always been government property and they always knew where it was.

But did they? Grissom got the suit from a NASA storage facility in 1962 and it has been in the family's possession for decades.

"Gus brought it home and told us put it in the closet," Betty Grissom said.

NASA never came looking for it. The Grissoms and NASA have always had a strained relationship, even while Gus was alive.

Grissom's Mercury capsule sank when it splashed down in the Atlantic in 1961. He didn't receive a hero's parade or an invitation to Washington to meet the president.

Six years later, Grissom and two other astronauts, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, died in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire.

If the Grissoms can work out a compromise regarding the suit, they say it would be the first thawing of the ice between the family and NASA since Grissom died 35 years ago.



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