Gus Grissom

grissom1April 3, 1926 – January 27, 1967

Virgil Ivan Grissom grew up in Indiana building model airplanes and dreaming of becoming a pilot. When he was in high school, World War II broke out, so Virgil – whose friends called him “Gus” – seized his chance to become a pilot and joined the Army Air Forces. Gus spent the war basically behind a desk…on the ground.

Six years later, the U.S. entered the Korean War and Gus re-enlisted in the newly rebranded Air Force; and this time, he earned his pilot wings. Grissom flew 100 missions in the conflict and made quite a name for himself as an airman. After the war, he became a test pilot and, in 1959, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration called Gus with a special offer.

NASA whittled 500 experienced and qualified pilots picked for their top secret project down to seven…and Gus Grissom was one of them. The Mercury 7, of course, became NASA’s first astronauts and soon, Gus was going to be flying in space. He flew the second manned mission in Project Mercury and went on to crew the Gemini 3 mission – becoming the first American to fly into space twice. When NASA turned its sights toward the moon with the Apollo program, you better believe Gus was going to be involved.

The United States space program had seen relatively little tragedy by 1967. Aside from the loss of a couple of test pilots in jet crashes, there were no fatalities in any of the actual space missions. On January 27th of that year, the 3-man crew of mission AS-204 was conducting a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in the sealed, oxygen-rich command capsule. All three astronauts were killed in the fire, including Command Pilot, Gus Grissom. One of NASA’s original heroes was lost before the project to the moon ever got off the ground. The mission was officially redesignated “Apollo 1” after the fire to honor those who were lost.


Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, VA

Specific Location

Section 3, Grave 2503-E; Gus is buried alongside fellow Apollo 1 crewmate Roger Chaffee, 3 rows from the southeastern edge of this small section.

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