NASA picture

Liberty Bell 7 mission was the 2nd manned Mercury-Redstone flight. Inside the capsule was 35 year old Virgil “Gus” Grissom. This was a repeat flight of Freedom 7 a few months earlier with a few notable exceptions.

The viewing window on Liberty Bell 7 was enlarged slightly over Shepard’s view, giving Grissom a wider view. So enthralled at the view, Grissom had problems focusing on tasks inside the capsule. Also, a new escape hatch had been installed. It was this new hatch system that almost ended in disaster.

After a successful launch, flight and parachute deployment, Liberty Bell 7 splashed down in the Atlantic not far from the Bahamas. While the capsule bobbed in the ocean waiting for pickup, the explosive capsule hatch deployed causing the capsule to take on water. Even with the capsule securely attached to the rescue helicopters, the water-filled capsule was too heavy to be lifted.

Marine helicopter appears to have Liberty Bell 7 in tow after Virgil I. Grissom’s successful flight of 305 miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Minutes after “Gus” Grissom got out of the spacecraft, it sank.

The capsule was released and it sank to about 15,000 feet of water. In 1999 the Mercury capsule was retrieved from the ocean bottom. Although the capsule was in good condition, it failed to provided any definitive answers as to why the hatch blew.

Grissom choose the name Liberty Bell 7 because the name was synonymous with “freedom.”

Despite the accident, Grissom was slated to be the first man on the Moon. As commander of Apollo 1, he was tragically killed in the infamous fire that also took the lives of fellow Apollo astronauts Roger Chaffee and Ed White.

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