second manned flight in the Mercury program was also a suborbital
flight. Virgil Ivan (Gus) Grissom was the commander.
Grissom named his
spacecraft Liberty Bell 7. Calling to mind the
original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, there was even a crack painted
on the side of the spacecraft. Like its namesake, the spacecraft
would also develop a serious flaw during the mission.
MR-4 was launched on July 21, 1961. At the moment of liftoff, the
astronaut in the blockhouse responsible for communication with the
spacecraft announced, "Liftoff."
Grissom responded, "Ah, Roger.
This is Liberty Bell 7. The clock is operating." The
Capsule Communicator in the Mercury Control Center then added, "Loud and clear, José, don't cry too
Later Grissom radioed, "Okay, it is a nice
ride up to now."
At 1 minute and 56 seconds into the flight Grissom reported his status,
is good; cabin pressure is holding; suit pressure is Okay; 2 minutes
and we got 4 g's; fuel is go; ah, feel the hand controller move just a
hair there; cabin pressure is holding; 02 is go; 25
we have GO
here." Grissom then exclaimed, "And I see a star!"
The capsule separated from the booster and at 2 minutes and 33 seconds
Grissom reported, "There went
posigrades; capsule has separated. We are at zero g and
turning around and the sun is really bright."
At 3 minutes 59 seconds, Grissom noted the effects of the absence of
of stuff - there's lots of stuff floating around up here."
It was time for the
retrorocket sequence. At 5 minutes and 5
seconds into the flight, CapCom called to Grissom, "Retros on my mark,
3, 2, 1, mark." Grissom reported, "Okay, there's 1
firing. There's 1 firing." CapCom acknowledged, "Roger, retro 1."
Grissom continued, "There's two firing,
nice little boost. There's three firing." CapCom
radioed Grissom, "Roger, 3, all
retros fired." Grissom responded, "Roger, roger.
Okay, yeh, they fired out right there."
At 6 minutes and 8 seconds into the flight, Grissom reported, "Retro, I'm back on
UHF and, ah, the jett - the retros have jettisoned. Now I can see
the Cape and, oh boy, is that some sight."
At 7 minutes and 7 seconds CapCom asked Grissom about the view outside
his capsule, "Roger,
how does it look out your window now?" Grissom answered, "Ah, the sun is
coming in and so all I can really see is just, ah, just darkness, the
sky is very black."
Deceleration of the spacecraft in the atmosphere brought with it the
onset of g forces. At 7 minutes and 54 seconds, Grissom reported, "I've got 0.05 g and
roll rate has started." By 8 minutes and 11 seconds into
the flight, the g forces had increased dramatically. Grissom
g's are building, we're up to 6 [g]." Six seconds later, Grissom
reported the g forces again, "There's 9 [g]."
The g forces peaked and started tapering off. At 8 minutes and 19
seconds, Grissom reported, "There's about 10
[g]; the handle is out from under it; here I got a little pitch rate
coming back through 7 [g].
At 8 minutes and 42 seconds Grissom reported, "Okay, I'm getting
some contrails, evidently shock wave, 50,000 feet; I'm feeling good.
I'm very good, everything is fine."
The time arrived for the parachute sequence to begin.
minutes and 28 seconds, Grissom reported, "25,000
Approaching drogue chute attitude. There's the drogue chute. The
periscope has extended. This is ... we have a green drogue
[light] here, 7 how do you read? Okay, we're coming down to
15,000 feet if anybody reads. We're on emergency flow rate; can
see out of the periscope Okay. The drogue chute is good."
Soon it was
time for the main parachute to deploy. At 10 minutes
and 14 seconds, Grissom reported, "There goes the main
chute; it's reefed; main chute is good; main chute is good; rate of
descent is coming down, coming down to - there's 40 feet per second, 30
feet per, 32 feet per second on the main chute and the landing bag is
The CapCom for recovery was called the Atlantic Ship CapCom (ATS) and
he responded to Grissom, "Liberty Bell 7,
Liberty Bell 7, this is the Atlantic Ship CapCom. Read you loud and
clear. Our telemetry confirms your events. Over."
At 11 minutes and 42 seconds into the flight, Grissom reported, "Auto fuel and
manual fuel has dumped." ATS CapCom responded, "Roger, roger."
Grissom continued, "And I'm in the
process of putting the pins back in the door at this time. Okay, I'm
passing down through 6000 feet, everything is good, ah, I'm going to
open my faceplate. Hello, I can't get one; I can't get one door
pin back in. I've tried and tried and I can't get it back
in. And I'm coming, ATS, I'm passing through 5,000 feet and I
don't think I have one of the door pins in." ATS CapCom
Bell 7, roger."
At 13 minutes and 33 seconds into the flight, Grissom noticed a rip in
his parachute. Grissom radioed, "Ah, roger, you
might make a note that there is one small hole in my chute. It
looks like it's about 6 inches by 6 inches - it's sort of a - actually
it's a triangular rip I guess." ATS CapCom responded, "Roger, roger."
At 14 minutes and 54 seconds, Grissom reported his
one more time before splashdown. Grissom radioed, "Okay. My max g was
about 10.2; altimeter is 1000 [feet]; cabin pressure is coming toward
15 [psi]. Temperature is 90 [degrees F]." Grissom
then continued with a report on his spacesuit parameters, "Coolant quantity is
30 [percent]; temperature is 68 [degrees F]; pressure is 14 [psi]; main
normal is - main is 60 [percent]; emergency is 100 [percent]; suit fan
is normal; cabin fan is normal. We have 21 amps and I'm getting
read for impact here."
flight, Grissom's lasted just over 15 minutes. The length of the flight
was limited by the thrust and fuel constraints of the Redstone launch
vehicle. At 15 minutes and 37 seconds into the flight, Liberty
Bell 7 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.
Grissom was inside of his spacecraft bobbing in the
Atlantic Ocean. Grissom
does anybody read Liberty Bell 7? Over." The call sign for
the primary recovery helicopter was "Hunt Club 1." The recover
helicopter responded, "Liberty Bell 7,
Hunt Club 1 is now 2 miles southwest of you."
Grissom responded, "Roger, my condition
is good; Okay, the capsule is floating, slowly coming vertical, have
actuated the rescue aids. The reserve chute is jettisoned, in
fact I can see it in the water and the whip antenna should be up."
After going through is post splashdown procedures, Grissom radioed, "Okay, Hunt Club,
this is Liberty Bell 7. Are you ready for the pickup?" The
helicopter crew responded, "This is Hunt Club
1; this is affirmative." Grissom continued, "Okay, latch on,
then give me a call. I'll power down and blow the hatch, Okay?"
The helicopter crew acknowledged, "This is Hunt Club
1, roger, will give you a call when we're ready for you to blow."
Grissom added, "Roger,
I've unplugged my suit, so I'm kind of warm now so."
The helicopter acknowledged, "1, roger."
Grissom radioed, "Now, if you tell me
to, ah, your ready for me to blow, I'll have to take my helmet off,
power down, and then blow the hatch." The helicopter crew
roger, and when you blow the hatch, the collar will already be down
there, waiting for you, and we're turning base at this time."
Unexpectedly, the escape hatch prematurely blew off of the
side of the vehicle. Seawater from the ocean came pouring in
through the open hatchway. At that point in the recovery process,
a flotation collar had not yet
been attached to the
If Liberty Bell 7 filled with water, it
would sink to the
bottom of the ocean. Grissom scrambled out of the hatch, trying
avoid the seafaring tradition of a captain going down with his
ship. Grissom's problems did not end there. His space suit was
sealed and it too started to fill with seawater. Astronaut
Grissom would drown
if help did not arrive soon.
helicopter was attached to Liberty Bell 7
with a steel
cable. The weight of the spacecraft became too much to bear as it
filled with seawater. The straining helicopter developed engine
trouble. Finally with no other alternative, the helicopter crew cut the
cable holding Liberty Bell 7 and she was committed to the deep.
Before Grissom went under, the recovery crew rescued him. A
concerned nation breathed a sigh of relief. After his recovery
Grissom stated, "I
there, minding my own business,
when I heard a dull thud."
The prime recovery ship for this mission was the USS Randolph.