Ignorance is preferable to error, and
he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing
than he who believes what is wrong.
Hot on the heels of Alan Shepard’s triumphant flight, a second manned mission was launched from Cape Canaveral. This one, however, came perilously close to ending in tragedy. At mission’s end NASA would lose a precious spacecraft and come within a hair’s breadth of losing an astronaut. Worst of all, that astronaut would almost drown within sight of a circling fleet of recovery helicopters. A death so early in America’s man-in-space program would have severely curtailed the nation’s space plans.
Eight weeks before the flight of Liberty Bell 7, President John Kennedy had made a dynamic pledge to send an American to the moon before the end of the decade. Gus Grissom, who dreamed of being the first person to set foot on the moon, almost became the first astronaut casualty in America’s mammoth undertaking.
Although those who came into contact with Virgil (Gus) Grissom freely admit he was not an easy person to know or confide in, this was not because the Mercury astronaut deliberately shunned people. Quite simply, Grissom was a perfectionist—particularly when his life and those of others depended upon his professionalism, perseverance, and cool-headed experience. His younger brother Lowell reflected on their shared upbringing and influences:
To know about Gus, it is important to know about our parents, Dennis and Ce-
cile. Dad worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for forty-seven years, as