Liberty Bell 7, Gemini 1, and Apollo 1

Two days ago was the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire. Over on FaceBook there were a number of posts commemorating that event and honoring the three men who died in it.

As a result I was reminded of the movie “The Right Stuff” (I’ve never read the book, party because of what I’m about to say about the movie).

The movie was pretty much a hatchet job on Grissom. The implication being that he panicked and blew the hatch, then, still or again, panicked in the water. And the bit about not getting to visit the President (which his wife complained about) was implied to be a result of that.

Let’s leave aside that Wally Schirra, in his autobiography, pointed out that when he blew the hatch on his flight the actuator “kicked back” and cut his hand. No such wound was present on Grissom’s hand. Let’s leave aside that Frank Borman in his autobiography, pointed out that an after-action review showed a number of ways the hatch could have been blown by accident (leading, I would imagine to an “oh shit!” moment at the thought of that happening in space).

No, consider instead that Gordon Cooper was forever grounded from the space program for hot-dogging in a jet after his own Mercury flight. Schirra, Eisel, and Cunningham were forever grounded from the space program for essentially saying “enough” and staging a “sit down strike”.

If Grissom had really screwed up the way he was portrayed as doing in that movie (*hack* *spit*), would he have been slated as the commander of the first Gemini mission, then again for the first Apollo mission? I don’t think so.

And while I might have liked the rest of the movie, this one bit completely ruined it for me. I get too angry over that one sequence to be able to consider the rest of the movie fairly.

There is, perhaps, a lesson there, but I’m not entirely sure what it is.


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