|By Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl|
The Space Museum in Bonne Terre, Missouri dedicated their newest gallery during a public event held on Saturday, March 16. Hundreds of visitors from the local area and from around the country joined with astronauts, aerospace engineers, prominent authors and media representatives to celebrate the opening of the Grissom Center, named for astronaut Gus Grissom. The tickets for the meet-and-greet session and panel discussion were sold out, but the public was encouraged to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour of the museum galleries. The Grissom Center is located in the Heritage Hall building next to the original museum location and will be open during regular visiting hours.
The morning activities consisted of the pre-event reception and ribbon-cutting at the Grissom Center, featured in Part 2 of this series, and the museum tours and autograph sessions featured in Part 3. Here we conclude our coverage of the Grissom Center dedication with a look at the special guest panel discussion held following the lunch break. The Space Museum President, Earl Mullins, opened the session by thanking those who contributed to the success of the event. Recognition was given to the "Mercury Six," including Mr. Bob Schepp who recently passed away. These men were tasked by McDonnell Aircraft with designing, building and testing the Mercury spacecraft at the dawn of the U.S. Manned Space Program, and they continue to educate the next generation on the past accomplishments and future potential of space flight. Following the recognition of these space program pioneers, the colors were posted by a Civil Air Patrol color guard.
Dr. Linda Godwin, a Jackson, MO native, flew on four Space Shuttle flights as a Mission Specialist. She performed two space walks and flew on missions to Mir and the International Space Station. "I was working on my PhD when NASA announced they were hiring again for the Shuttle Program and for the very first time were actively recruiting women to apply...What I was doing fit the basic criteria. So the education opened the door for me and a lot of support along the way." Godwin said that she did not have everything figured out in advance, but pursued her desire to become a NASA astronaut.
Thomas Akers, an Eminence, MO native, was a U.S. Air Force test pilot before joining NASA. He flew four missions as a Space Shuttle Mission Specialist and performed over 29 hours of space walk activity. "We all felt very well trained the first time we went out on our first space walks." He credited the technical and supporting staff for this and for all they did to make each mission possible.Dick Richards, a St. Louis, MO native, was a U.S. Navy test pilot before joining NASA. He flew four missions as a Space Shuttle pilot and commander and later joined Boeing to support the Shuttle program. "For those new astronauts...I think we need to be there for them, support them, teach them what we learned, and teach them what went wrong for us." He mentioned Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean as the one who taught him "how to be an astronaut."
Rob Kelso was the NASA Flight Director for 25 Space Shuttle flights, Mission Director for the deployment for the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, and Johnson Space Center Deputy Director for Safety and Mission Assurance. "We almost had to come in in Africa in my first five minutes of my first flight as a Flight Director!" He went on to tell the story of how a secret DoD Space Shuttle flight was almost cut short due to a leak of pressure from the toilet facility.
George Leopold is a veteran science and technology writer who has extensively covered the U.S. Manned Space Program. His recent book is Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom. "Gus embraced these risks, he worked his tail off and everything he got he earned. I wanted everybody to remember that...I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Gus Grissom is beloved in this country, and I want to keep his memory alive."
The panel discussion concluded with a rousing applause from the several hundred members of the audience. The Aero Experience thanks the members of the panel, Mac's Old Team, The Space Museum staff and volunteers and all who contributed to the success of the Grissom Center dedication event. We encourage everyone to visit and support this great Midwest treasure!