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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Betty Grissom
Betty Lavonne Moore

(1927-08-08)August 8, 1927
DiedOctober 7, 2018(2018-10-07) (aged 91)
Gus Grissom
(m. 1945; died 1967)

Betty Lavonne Grissom (née Moore; August 8, 1927 – October 7, 2018) was the plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against a NASA contractor which established a precedent for families of astronauts killed in service to receive compensation. Her husband Gus Grissom, one of the Mercury Seven astronauts, died in the first fatal accident in the history of the United States space program.[1][2] Ms. Grissom has been portrayed in the books The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe and The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel and by the actors Veronica Cartwright and JoAnna Garcia in the film and television adaptations of those books.[3]

Early life

Betty Lavonne Moore was born in 1927 in Mitchell, Indiana to Claude and Pauline (née Sutherlin) Moore. Her father worked at a cement plant.[1] She met Gus Grissom when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore in high school. The two were married in 1945. Grissom worked as a late-night telephone operator for Indiana Bell while her husband studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University.[4] Gus was selected as an astronaut after flying over a hundred combat missions in Korea. He became one of the Mercury Seven and was the second American in space.[5] Betty Grissom formed the Astronaut Wives Club along with the wives of the other Mercury 7 astronauts, to support one another while their husbands prepared for and achieved spaceflight.[6]

Husband's death and aftermath

On January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, along with fellow astronauts Roger Chaffee and Ed White, died when an electrical fire engulfed the Apollo 1 command module during testing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. When Ms. Grissom received the news she said that she had "already died 100,000 deaths" being married to an astronaut.[7] Investigations concluded that the "most probable" cause of the fire was an electrical spark that set ablaze flamable insulation in the capsule, exacerbated by the pure oxygen atmosphere.[8] Escape was prevented by a plug hatch that was impossible to open against the above-atmospheric pressure inside the cabin.[9]:5–3 These design flaws were fixed by NASA before the next crewed mission.[1]

In 1971 Grissom filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the Apollo program's prime contractor, North American Rockwell. In 1972, she settled for $350,000, which adjusted for inflation, would be worth nearly $3 million in 2018.[5] As a result of her legal action the widows of Chaffee and White received $125,000 apiece. Following the Challenger explosion of 1986, Grissom encouraged the families of crew members killed in the incident to file lawsuits. Grissom's lawyer, Ronald D. Krist, went on to represent Cheryl McNair, widow of astronaut Ronald McNair, in her lawsuit against Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid rocket booster blamed for the Challenger accident.[2]

In 1984, Grissom and the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts created the Mercury 7 Foundation, later renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, which provides scholarships for science and engineering students.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Katharine Q. Seelye, "Betty Grissom, Who Sued in Astronaut Husband’s Death, Dies at 91,", The New York Times, October 11, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Says NASA, Space Firms 'Don't Care' : Grissom Widow Offers Advice--Sue,", Associated Press, January 20, 1987.
  3. ^ Eric Benson, "No Honeymoon Lily Koppel's 'Astronaut Wives Club'," The New York Times, July 19, 2013.
  4. ^ Mary C. Zornio, "Virgil Ivan 'Gus' Grissom,", retrieved October 21, 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Betty Grissom, widow of astronaut Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, dies at 91," The Washington Post, October 10, 2018.
  6. ^ Andrea Morabito (2015-06-12). "These badass women inspired 'Astronaut Wives Club'". New York Post. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  7. ^ Lily Koppel, "50 Years After Apollo Disaster, Memorial for 3 Men, and for Era," The New York Times, January 28, 2017.
  8. ^ "GRISSOM'S WIDOW ASKS $10‐MILLION," Archived via the TimesMachine,The New York Times, January 19, 1971.
  9. ^ Thompson, Floyd; Borman, Dolah; Faget, Maxime; White, George; Geer, Barton (April 5, 1967). Report of Apollo 204 Review Board (PDF). NASA. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 14, 2016.
  10. ^ "History,", retrieved October 21, 2018.
This page was last edited on 20 May 2020, at 20:56
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