Expedition to try to raise Grissom's spacecraft from sea
July 1, 1999
From Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella
TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- It was almost four decades ago that the world stood by and watched, for four anxious minutes, to see if astronaut Gus Grissom would make it out of the Liberty Bell 7 space capsule.
The trouble started after splashdown July 21, 1961, when the hatch blew open prematurely and the spacecraft filled with water. Grissom struggled into a safety harness lowered by a helicopter. The capsule was last seen plunging into the Atlantic Ocean after efforts to lift it failed.
Two months ago, Curt Newport led an expedition financed by the Discovery Channel that found the lost piece of U.S. space history. "I was bouncing off the walls when we found it," Newport said.
The 9-foot-long capsule is resting on the bottom of the Atlantic under 15,000 feet of water -- some 3000-feet deeper than the Titanic's North Sea graveyard.
The underwater robotic rover Newport's team used to identify and photograph the spacecraft in May sank in rough seas, putting recovery efforts on hold until new equipment could be readied.
Now Newport and his team are heading back to the site in hopes of recovering the capsule. In most recovery efforts, Newport said, search teams are just going after wreckage, but that's not the case with the Liberty Bell.
"What makes this different is, it's an intact artifact and we want to recover it and not do anything to damage it. So from that standpoint, it makes it more difficult," Newport explained.
There is hope that once the capsule is recovered, engineers may be able to determine why the hatch suddenly blew open. Grissom, who died in 1967 in the tragic Apollo I fire, maintained to his death that he had done nothing to trigger the mishap.
"It certainly didn't affect his career within the space program," saidJohn Logsdon, a professor at George Washington University. "He was in line before he was killed in the Apollo I accident to be the commander of the first lunar landing mission."
Grissom was America's second man into space.
Recovering the capsule may not be enough to solve the mystery. Experts say clues would more likely be found in the hatch, which has not been located.
The expedition to recover the Liberty Bell is expected to take 12 days. If there is time, Newport said, the crew also will look for the hatch.
NASA has given the rights to the capsule to the Kansas Comosphere museum, where it will be restored and displayed.
Salvage team heading out to recover Mercury capsule
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