Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation Retirees Celebrate Mercury Spacecraft 50 Year Anniversary

By Carmelo Turdo
A large group of McDonnell Douglas Corporation retirees gathered for their monthly luncheon today in nearby St. Louis County to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the first orbital flight of the Mercury spacecraft - John Glenn's Friendship 7 mission.  It was an honor to visit with this group of talented aerospace engineers and production workers that built the early manned spacecraft - Mercury and Gemini - as well as military aircraft and missiles.  Present as guests were Lowell Grissom, brother of astronaut Gus Grissom, and his wife; Dan Terrell, former Mayor of Mitchell, Indiana, Grissom's home town; Earl Mullins, President of the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO; Rose Church, McDonnell Aircraft Aerospace Nurse to the Astronauts; and Jack Abercrombie, Curator of the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum.  The group luncheons and activities are organized by Norman Beckel.

McDonnell Douglas Retiree Luncheon
Lowell Grissom addressed the group of nearly 80 McDonnell retirees.  He asked this rhetorical question, remembering the death of his brother, astronaut Gus Grissom, in the Apollo 1 fire  on January 27, 1967:

    "I always think, what if McDonnell made that Apollo spacecraft?  How would things have been different?  My dad always said, 'Things would have been tremendously different if McDonnell built that Apollo spacecraft.'  There were a lot of things wrong with that spacecraft...It  was supposed to be insulated so you couldn't have a spark or an arc, and yet it happened.  Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were gone in an instant.  So it keeps reminding me, what if..."

During the luncheon, I met Mr. Grissom and mentioned to him that his brother Gus Grissom was one of my heroes.  He answered, "Mine, too."

Apollo 1 Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee
Ironically, a team of McDonnell Aircraft engineers assisted in the redesign of the new Apollo spacecraft that performed admirably in future missions, taking 12 astronauts to the moon.

Dan Terrell, former Mayor of Mitchell Indiana, the Grissoms' home town, spoke of the trip that some of those present made to Mitchell in July of 2011 for the 50th anniversary of Gus Grissom's Mercury flight in Liberty Bell 7.  Another trip may be taken this year as well.  A patch like the one pictured below was given to all attendees of the luncheon.

Former Mayor of Mitchell, IN Dan Terrell

Earl Mullins, President of the Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO spoke of the challenges of bringing a space museum and education center to smaller towns like Bonne Terre.  It takes dedication and vision to become successful, and this museum is well on its way to making its mark in the community and across the nation.  Working with other museums, like the Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, and groups like the McDonnell Douglas retirees, is key to preserving the aerospace heritage of the region.  

Earl Mullins, President of Space Museum in Bonne Terre, MO

Following the luncheon, many in the group visited the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room exhibit at Boeing IDS Headquarters near Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Displays of civilian, military and space vehicles manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, North American Aviation and Boeing are featured, including full-scale engineering development fixtures of the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft. 

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