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Gus Grissom: The Lost Astronaut (Indiana Biography Series) Hardcover – September, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

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The shortest of the original Mercury Seven astronauts stands tall in this solid biography. Born in a small town in central Indiana, Grissom served briefly in the air force at the end of World War II, then went to Purdue before returning to the military. He flew a tour in Korea, trained as a test pilot, and eventually was picked as one of the first astronauts. This led him to his famous 1961 suborbital flight in which the spacecraft sank upon return--not, it appears, because of any negligence on his part. He commanded the first Gemini mission in 1965, and thereafter was appointed to the 1967 first Apollo mission, in which he died in the fire that consumed the fatally defective spacecraft. Not a glamorous figure, Grissom was outstanding for his workmanlike attitude toward every task set before him. Plainly written but thoroughly researched, this book does the badly needed job of rescuing his memory from the pages of Life and Tom Wolfe, his major previous limners. Roland Green
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Product Details

  • Series: Indiana Biography Series
  • Hardcover: 393 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana Historical Society (September 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871951762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871951762
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #323,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ray E. Boomhower is senior editor of the Indiana Historical Society's quarterly popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Boomhower has been with the Society since 1987, beginning work for the statewide, nonprofit organization as its public relations coordinator.

A native of Mishawaka, Indiana, Boomhower graduated from Indiana University in 1982 with degrees in journalism and political science. He received his master's degree in U.S. history from Indiana University, Indianapolis, in 1995. Before joining the Society staff, he worked in public relations for the Indiana State Museum and as a reporter for two Indiana daily newspapers, the Rensselaer Republican and the Anderson Herald.

In 1999 Boomhower received the Hoosier Historian award from the Indiana Historical Society. His book on Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Democratic presidential primary won the 2009 Best Books of Indiana competition in the nonfiction category sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book, and his other works have been finalists in the annual Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association. In 2010 he was named as the winner of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award in the regional category.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on November 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom saga was long overdue for a retelling. For too many years the only thing resembling a biography was the dreadful "Starfall," a superficial patchwork. This work comes from the Indiana Historical Society Press, and while not exhaustive, it is a vast improvement over Grissom's first biography and puts a respectable current biography in schools and libraries.

I have to remind myself over and over that it is nearly fifty years ago since Grissom and six other career military fighter pilots were selected by the fledgling NASA for Project Mercury, the United States' program to put a single astronaut in earth orbit. Many Americans have little or no idea of who this man was, let alone the success and controversy that swirled around his life and into the literature of nearly every retired astronaut's autobiography. If he is remembered by today's younger generations, it may be as a dim reference to "the fire" of 1967, in which Grissom and two other astronauts were killed during rehearsal for the maiden Project Apollo flight.

Author Ray E. Boomhower presents Grissom's life in a rather factual way. The reader does not get unduly bogged down in technology, the Cold War, or in the jocular astronaut life, aside from a few Wally Schirra stories. There is insightful and tasteful observation from Grissom's family and friends in Indiana, including Mrs. Betty Grissom. By rooting this work in Grissom's native community, the author conveys a sense that the hometown boy from the Midwest went off to school, war, and outer space, bringing pride to the folks back home. Boomhower has given us the story of Grissom's life, not Grissom's programs; Neal Thompson's recent biography of Alan B. Shepard has many of the same characteristics.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert I. Hedges HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always been interested in the US space program, and Apollo in particular. It amazes me that there has been so little published on Gus Grissom or Apollo 1. There have been scattershot, low distribution books but very little of substance. I am pleased to see that Ray Boomhower has finally written a good biography of one of the overlooked heroes of the space program, Gus Grissom.

The biography is thorough, and as far as I can tell generally quite accurate, although there is little to cross-reference it against. I found the story well written, but occasionally the pace bogged down, particularly in the sections dealing with early military service.

One thing I liked about the book is that it didn't focus exclusively on the space program or Apollo 1, but rather treated them in context with the rest of Grissom's life. I was pleased that the Gemini 3 mission was so thoroughly covered, and enjoyed learning about the interactions with the other astronauts, especially John Young and Wally Schirra. The book met the issue of the blown Mercury hatch head on, and by the end of the book it became clear that Grissom was not at fault for the incident.

The book fills a needed void in the history of space literature, and I am generally quite pleased with it. I give it four stars overall: I am glad we finally have a biography of Grissom, a true American hero.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J. Wootten on May 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you've never read much about America's space race during the 60's, this is a good read with a lot of solid history and the story of a man who gave his life for his country.

If, however, you are knowledgeable about this era the book adds little insight into Gus Grissom that hasn't already been published. The best source for this insight, Betty Grissom, was interviewed for this book but it appears nothing new was brought to light. With that said, I understand and respect her right to keep certain aspects of his life private. BTW: Her book "Starfall" was outstanding - I learned much more about Gus Grissom from that than any other source. It's a shame it's out of print.

Regardless, I bought it, it's now in my collection and am glad that I did.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By V. Phillips on September 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I hope all of those who saw "The Right Stuff" and based their opinions of Gus Grissom on that movie/book, read THIS one. Grissom was the best pilot (and I am a huge Chuck Yeager fan) and an all around good guy. I was so glad when the Liberty Bell was brought to the surface and people finally knew what this book tells the reader, and those of us who had faith in Gus all along already knew. He did NOTHING WRONG when his spacecraft sank. Having seen the Apollo Launch pad where Grissom, White and Chafee died, mourned along with the rest of the nation when the fire happened, and the memorial in Arlington, it was great to read this biography and bring Gus back for a little while. Certainly one of America's and Indiana's finest! A good book about a great man.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By S. Casper on January 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Virgil "Gus" Grissom is most commonly remembered by casual "space historians", as the only Mercury Astronaut to lose his spacecraft and for his death along with Robert Chafee and Edward White in the Apollo 1 fire. Most of these same historians think of him as a bit of a screwup as well, who may have been responsible for the loss of Friendship 7, when he in a panicked state blew the hatch while most of the spacecraft was still submerged, but for the loss of Apollo 1 as well due his insistence on not using explosive hatch bolts in later NASA programs such as Gemini and Apollo. The theory being that if NASA had developed the Apollo spacecraft with the explosive hatch, Grissom, Chafee, and White would have been able to blow the hatch and escape the fire which killed them. A minority of these folks even go so far as to blame him for the fire itself, saying that it was his movements which caused wires to short and to start the fire that killed the three of them.

A more dedicated researcher however finds himself quickly at odds with these assumptions. If Grissom was the screwup the majority of people seem to think he was, then why did NASA not only select him to be the second American in space, but listened to his input to the point that they incorporated so many of his design idea's and requirements into the Gemini program that other astronauts referred to the spacecraft as the "Gusmobile" and complained that the spacecraft were tailored to fit his 5'6 140 pound frame, or why was he on the fast track to become the first American to walk on the moon? The logical conclusion is that Grissom wasn't the screw up people thought him to be. The problem facing the dedicated researcher is the lack of compiled information about Virgil Grissom.
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