from TPDL 1999-Feb-11,
by Christopher Ruddy:
Apollo Astronaut Was Murdered, Son Charges Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, the astronaut slated to be the first man to walk on the moon, was murdered, his son has charged in the February 16 edition of STAR magazine.
In another stunning development, a lead NASA investigator has charged the agency engaged in a cover-up of the true cause of the catastrophe that killed Grissom and two other astronauts.
The tabloid exclusive by Steve Herz reports that Scott Grissom, 48, has gone public with the family's long held belief that their father was purposefully killed during Apollo I.
The January 27, 1967, Apollo I mission was a simulated launch in preparation for an actual lunar flight.
NASA concluded the Apollo I deaths of Grissom, as well as astronauts Edward H. White and Roger Chafee, were the result of an explosive fire that enveloped the pure oxygen atmosphere of the space capsule. NASA investigators could not identify what caused the spark, but wrote the catastrophe off as an accident.
"My father's death was no accident, he was murdered," Grissom, a commercial pilot, told STAR.
Grissom said he recently was granted access to the charred capsule and discovered a "fabricated" metal plate located behind a control panel switch. The switch controlled the capsules' electrical power source from an outside source to the ship's batteries. Grissom argues that the placement of the metal plate was an act of sabotage. When the one of the astronauts toggled the switch to transfer power to the ship's batteries, a spark was created igniting a fireball.
Clark Mac Donald, a McDonnell-Douglas engineer hired by NASA to investigate the fire, offered corroborating evidence. Breaking more than three decades of silence, Mac Donald alleges that he determined an electrical short caused by the change over to battery power had caused the fire.
He says that NASA destroyed his report and interview tapes in an effort to stem public criticism of the space program.
"I have agonized for 31 years about revealing the truth but I didn't want to hurt NASA's image or cause trouble," Mac Donald told the paper. "But I can't let one more day go by without the truth being known."
Grissom's widow, Betty, now 71, told STAR she agrees with her son's claim that her husband had been murdered.
"I believe Scott has found the key piece of evidence to prove NASA knew all along what really happened but covered up to protect funding for the race to the moon."
Scott Grissom told STAR the motive for his father's killing may have been related to NASA's desire not have his father be the first man to walk on the moon because of criticism leveled at Grissom in 1961 after his Gemini capsule, Liberty 7, sunk in the Atlantic.
Critics of Grissom, including novelist Tom Wolfe, have claimed Grissom panicked when his space capsule landed in the ocean, and he prematurely pulled an explosive charge to open the ship's hatch, causing it to sink.
Fellow astronauts, however, gave Grissom the benefit of the doubt for several reasons. Grissom was a decorated Korean war pilot who had flown nearly 100 combat missions. He was a courageous man not known to panic.
There was also evidence that the explosive device on the hatch could accidentally blow without being pulled -- a fact that led NASA to remove such devices from future spacecraft.
Also, had Grissom pulled the explosive release on the hatch, his hand or arm should have had powder and bruise marks. Neither were found.
Grissom, one of the original Mercury seven, was the senior astronaut when the Apollo missions began.
Among the astronauts, Grissom was the most critical of the problem-plagued Apollo program, and the main Apollo contractor, North American Aviation.
Shortly before his death, Grissom had taken a large lemon and hung it around the space capsule as the press looked on. He had suggested publicly that the project could never be accomplished on time.
The Associated Press reported, "`Pretty slim' was the way [Grissom] put his Apollo's chances of meeting its mission requirements."
The Grissom family had reason to doubt the official NASA ruling from the beginning. Even before Apollo I, Grissom had received death threats which his family believed emanated from within the space program.
The threats were serious enough that he was put under Secret Service protection and had been moved from his home to a secure safe house.
According to his wife, Grissom had warned her that "if there is ever a serious accident in the space program, it's likely to be me."
The Apollo I disaster led to a series of Congressional hearings into the incident and NASA. During the hearings, one launch pad inspector, Thomas Baron, sharply criticized NASA's handling of the incident and testified that the astronauts attempted to escape the capsule earlier than officially claimed.
Baron was fired soon after giving the testimony, and died, along with his wife, when his car was struck by a train. Authorities ruled the deaths as suicide.
During the Congressional hearings, Senator Walter Mondale questioned the efficacy of manned space programs. Manned space flights were opposed by many of the leading space scientists at the time, including Drs. James Van Allen and Thomas Gold.
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