On This Day in Space! July 21, 1961: Gus Grissom becomes 2nd American in space

On July 21, 1961, NASA astronaut Gus Grissom completed the second successful human spaceflight mission for the United States of America. 

Grissom’s  suborbital flight in the Liberty Bell 7 capsule lasted 15 minutes and 30 seconds and reached an altitude of 103 nautical miles.

Mercury Redstone 4: Photos from Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 Spaceflight

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The launch of Virgil

The launch of Virgil “Gus” Grissom on NASA’s Mercury-Redstone 4 suborbital mission from Cape Canaveral on July 21, 1961. (Image credit: NASA)

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Virgil Gus Grissom and his Liberty Bell 7 suborbital spacecraft, which launched in July 1961, sported a new window design.

Virgil Gus Grissom and his Liberty Bell 7 suborbital spacecraft, which launched in July 1961, sported a new window design. (Image credit: NASA)

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Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom climbs into Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft the morning of July 21, 1961.

Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom climbs into Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft the morning of July 21, 1961. (Image credit: NASA)

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Astronaut Gus Grissom's Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, on display at the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Astronaut Gus Grissom’s Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, on display at the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson, Kansas. (Image credit: Cosmosphere)

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mercury-redstone-4-grissom-60th-events02 — The Cosmosphere space museum in Kansas will offer limited edition Liberty Bell 7 shirts and patches on the 60th anniversary of the July 21, 1961 suborbital spaceflight.

mercury-redstone-4-grissom-60th-events02 — The Cosmosphere space museum in Kansas will offer limited edition Liberty Bell 7 shirts and patches on the 60th anniversary of the July 21, 1961 suborbital spaceflight. (Image credit: Cosmosphere via collectSPACE.com)

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The Mercury pilot, flanked by military medical officers, is on the U.S.S. Randolph after his 1961 mission.

The Mercury pilot, flanked by military medical officers, is on the U.S.S. Randolph after his 1961 mission. (Image credit: NASA)

Everything went according to plan until just after Grissom splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. While Grissom was waiting on the recovery crew to come get him, the hatch cover on Liberty Bell 7 unexpectedly blew open and water started pouring into the capsule. 

Grissom barely made it out alive, but Liberty Bell 7 sank into the ocean. In 1999, an expedition successfully recovered the Liberty Bell 7 from the ocean floor so it could be restored and displayed in museums. 

  •  Space History Photo: Gus Grissom Onboard the USS Randolph 
  •  The Mercury 7 Astronauts: NASA’s First Space Travelers 
  •  Most Extreme Human Spaceflight Records 

Catch up on our entire “On This Day In Space” series on YouTube with this playlist. 

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Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

SPACE.COM EDITOR — Hanneke joined the team at Space.com in August 2016 as a staff writer and producer. She has previously written for Scholastic, MedPage Today and Oak Ridge National Lab. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her home town of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. She is currently based in Seattle, home of the Space Needle.

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