Teen Intervenes in NASA Spacesuit Struggle

ByABC News
December 1, 2005, 10:55 AM

HOUSTON, Dec. 3, 2005 — -- Gus Grissom had "the right stuff." One of NASA's original seven astronauts, Grissom's Liberty Bell Seven mission was just the second manned U.S. space flight.

Today, his legacy is at the center of a fight involving his widow, NASA and a teenage girl born more than two decades after he blasted into space.

For more than a decade now, Grissom's spacesuit from his 1961 Liberty Bell Seven mission has been in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., while his family and the federal government engage in a bitter tug-of-war over who owns it.

"All of the spacesuits are government property purchased with taxpayer dollars," said Lisa Malone of NASA.

But the Grissoms say that they own the suit, and that it was only loaned to the museum.

"It was part of the family," said Betty Grissom, Gus' widow. "It means everything. It's just him. You know, it's almost like having him around."

Grissom's family says he brought the suit home before his second flight aboard Gemini. There, it hung in his wife's closet while he prepared to fly the first Apollo mission, something with unknown risks.

In January 1967, Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee died during pre-flight tests on the launch pad, three weeks before their mission.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what happened," Betty Grissom said.

In her struggle with the government, Betty Grissom has found an unlikely champion hundreds of miles away -- Amanda Meyer, 15, of Madison, Conn.

Born 23 years after Grissom died, Amanda chose the astronaut for a school essay about heroes.

"If he did not make this great sacrifice, we would not be as close to Mars as we are today," Meyer said, reading from her essay.

Amanda has started a petition drive in her hometown, and created a Web site campaign to get the spacesuit back.

For those who might wonder why a teenager would adopt a late astronaut as a hero, Meyer said: "It's a different person to have as your hero, but I think he's a really courageous person, and he should be idealized more than he is."

In August, Amanda went to the museum in Florida to meet with officials. And she saw the spacesuit.

"I almost started crying," she said. "It was just amazing that I was so close to something that he touched as well."

Amanda is now working on a compromise that would send the suit to the Gus Grissom museum in his hometown of Mitchell, Ind.

"I have never gotten any help from NASA," Betty Grissom says. "To think that a 15-year-old girl has come along and done this, I think it's great."

Successful or not, Amanda has already planned her future -- to become an astronaut, of course.

ABC News Bob Jamieson originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on Nov. 27, 2005.