July 19, 2023

VIDEO: Young Honors Hoosier Astronaut Gus Grissom on Senate Floor

Gus Grissom Speech Screenshot

**Click here or above to watch Senator Young’s floor speech.**


WASHINGTON – Ahead of the anniversary of the Mercury-Redstone 4, U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) paid tribute on the Senate floor to Hoosier astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom.

A native of Mitchell, Indiana, Grissom was one of the seven Mercury astronauts and America’s second man in space.

“Six decades later, we are still proud of him. And we should all still follow his example, and always press on towards the next frontier, wherever it may be,” said Senator Young.

To watch Senator Young’s full floor speech, click here.

Senator Young’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Indiana was settled by men and women who left the safety of their homes, headed westward, and crossed the Appalachian Mountains into the wilderness and the unknown.

They were willing to endure hardship, to risk danger in search of a better tomorrow, to clear a path for others to follow.

They were pioneers.

But long after our state was settled, and Indiana’s population drifted up from the banks of the Ohio River towards Lake Michigan, Hoosiers never stopped looking towards the frontier.

Only they cast their gaze away from the west and towards the sky…

In the fall of 1959, 15,000 people gathered in the southern Indiana town of Mitchell – population 3,500 at the time.

Some lined the streets. Others sat on roof tops or watched through windows.

They hadn’t come to Mitchell’s annual Persimmon Festival for the beauty pageant, the pudding contest, or the classic car run.

They were there to see the convertible at the head of the festival’s parade as it drove down Mitchell’s Main Street.

Seated inside was one of their own, a local boy. 

They knew him from the house on Baker Street, or from Mitchell High, or First Baptist Church.

History knows him as the second American to travel to space and the first man to go there twice. 

His name was Lt. Colonel Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom.

Study his portrait – the flattop haircut, the serious expression.

Look at old photos of White House press events – he’s the odd astronaut out, the one who looks like he would rather not be there.

The images do not lie: He was taciturn, tough minded and hard driving.

NASA’s head physician described him as “confident but not conceited, a stern competitor but a good teammate, a frank but carefree speaker.”

He had little use for publicity or the press. He only went to White House events there because his wife Betty and their boys wanted to.

He wasn’t a celebrity. He was a pilot and an engineer.

He was more comfortable racing fellow Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard in his souped up Corvette around Cape Kennedy.

But the race he truly cared about was the one to the stars. He was determined to beat Russia there.

“I think we ought to declare an out and out race with the Russians to put the first man in space,” Grissom once stated.

This Hoosier didn’t mince words.

He saw the space race as an important global competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, between freedom and communism.

The prize was more than just a flag planted on the moon. It meant prestige and pride, yes, but also technological superiority, and the national security and economic benefits that went with it.

America won that race in part because of Gus Grissom, –and our nation reaped incredible benefits because of his sacrifice. 

On July 21, 1961, almost two years after he was at the center of the Persimmon Festival in Mitchell, Grissom splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, 260 nautical miles south of Cape Canaveral.

He had just rode Mercury-Redstone 4 above the earth and back down.

Appropriately, Grissom nicknamed the ship Liberty Bell 7, a tribute to the bell that rang after the reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Regardless of what you’ve read in novels or seen in movies, Grissom’s flight was flawless.

The vessel sank after its hatch blew – the result of poor design and electrostatic discharge, not astronaut error.

Four years later, on March 23, 1965, friends and former classmates gathered at the First Baptist church back in Mitchell, nearly every business installed a television so their customers and employees could watch Grissom return to space.

This was a different journey though.

The Mercury ships boosted astronauts into space and retro-rocketed them back to earth.

This new craft, the Gemini, gave them a degree of control and added maneuverability, technological leaps that anticipated manned flights to the moon.

Grissom, along with pilot John Young, did not only skillfully guide Gemini 3 as it orbited the earth three times, he virtually designed the ship.

Stung by the “hatch crap” on Liberty Bell 7, as he called it, Grissom securitized and directed the assembly of the new spacecraft. 

Their construction so closely followed his vision that other astronauts nicknamed the Gemini “Gusmobile.” The cockpit and seat were even configured to his 5’7 frame.

Grissom was next given command of the Apollo program’s first mission, with its goal of realizing President Kennedy’s charge of landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.

When the Apollo Lunar Module landed at Tranquility Base on the lunar surface in 1969, Grissom was not aboard.

He had perished two years prior in a launch pad fire aboard Apollo 1 during testing.

The tragedy, though, inspired NASA to improve the construction and ultimately the safety of the Apollo crafts, leading to the moon landing.

Grissom said, “the conquest of space is worth the risk of human life.” The race to the stars ended in America’s favor because he gave his.

He may not have been aboard Apollo 11 when it reached the moon, but it never would have gotten there without him.

At the onset of that journey, and the most daunting journeys Americans have embarked on, there has been skepticism, questions of purpose and value.

It never stopped the pioneers, the doers and dreamers, and Americans like Gus Grissom, from making the voyage and making our country better.

Back in the fall of 1959, during the Persimmon Festival, Mayor Roy Ira handed Grissom a plaque and gave him a simple tribute:

“Mitchell is proud of Grissom. I urge our youth to take note of Virgil’s example.”

Six decades later, we are still proud of him. And we should all still follow his example, and always press on towards the next frontier, wherever it may be.