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  sci-tech > space > story pagecorner  

Liberty Bell 7 capsule raised from ocean floor

Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell 7 was pulled from a depth of 15,000 feet -- 3,000 feet deeper than the Titanic   

July 20, 1999
Web posted at: 10:53 a.m. EDT (1453 GMT)

In this story:

Titanic salvager headed up search

Grissom's reputation at stake


MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Almost 38 years to the day since it sank, the Liberty Bell space capsule is now above water, according to a dispatch from a reporter aboard its recovery ship.

The Mercury capsule, flown by astronaut Gus Grissom for 15 minutes in space on July 21, 1961, was hoisted to the surface at 2:15 a.m. Tuesday from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was found at a depth of more than 15,000 feet -- 3,000 feet deeper than the wreck of the Titanic.

Following a successful mission and splashdown, the Liberty Bell 7's hatch mysteriously blew off, causing it to take on water.

Eventually, the craft became too heavy for Marine helicopters to hold, and it was cut loose and sank 90 miles northeast of Grand Bahamas. Grissom, the second American in space, found himself in the water for several anxious minutes before Marine divers rescued him.

Once out of the ocean Tuesday, the capsule was placed in a sealed container to protect it from the elements, according to a reporter from the Discovery Channel who viewed the recovery operation.

The ship, Ocean Project, headed back to land where it will dock at Port Canaveral, Florida. That is near where the spaceship was launched, known then as Cape Canaveral and now as the Kennedy Space Center.

Titanic salvager headed up search

The Discovery Channel financed the search expedition. Curt Newport, an undersea salvager who has worked on the recovery of the space shuttle Challenger, TWA flight 800 and the Titanic, commanded the expedition.

Before he set sail, Newport told CNN, "We figured out that there was about 10 percent of the ocean floor, where if it had gone in that area, we probably wouldn't have seen it with the sonar. Fortunately, the spacecraft was kind of up on a high point."

Once on land, the spacecraft will be taken apart, cleaned of salt water and eventually put back together again. A NASA spokesman told CNN that the space agency has reserved the right to inspect the capsule before it heads to its new home, the Kansas Cosmosphere, an aerospace museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Grissom's reputation at stake

The sinking was a bit of a black eye on the career of Grissom, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. Some speculate that Grissom panicked and prematurely blew the hatch, but that was never proven and he denied it.

In 1967, Grissom and two other astronauts, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, were killed in a fire on the launch pad rehearsing for the first Apollo launch.

It is doubtful that anyone will ever learn just how the hatch blew off. It was estimated that the hatch was probably resting a mile or so from the capsule but would be extremely difficult to locate.

Grissom's widow, Betty Grissom, opposed the plan to fish out the capsule. "I know Gus didn't do anything wrong, but even if they do find it, it won't prove a thing," she told CNN from her home in Houston.

The expedition set sail from the Port of Tampa on July 1 but was plagued with one equipment problem after another with its undersea robot, Ocean Discovery.

New parts for the sub's sonar had to be flown in last week. Over the weekend, the expedition went to the Bahamas for supplies and rest.

The capsule was originally found May 1, but the tether connecting the remote-operated vehicle, Magellan, snapped in extremely rough seas.

Expedition to try to raise Grissom's spacecraft from sea
July 1, 1999
Salvage team heading out to recover Mercury capsule
July 1, 1999
Mercury capsule located on ocean floor; recovery next
May 3, 1999
Ocean expedition hopes to salvage Mercury space capsule
April 17, 1999
The Mercury 7: Heroes, rivals, brothers
In-Depth News Special

Project Mercury
Discovery Online, Expeditions -- Liberty Bell 7
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