Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom was in Liberty Bell 7 on July 21, 1961.
Everybody liked Gus because he was a straight-forward guy who said what he thought even though not everyone understood what he thought.
I am not even certain that he understood what he thought half the time, but what the hell do I know?
I think of him as the Yogi Berra of the US Space project - Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo - through the 1960s.
He was the second US astronaut aloft after Alan Shephard in the "popgun shot" of Freedom 7 which was designed simply to put a human being beyond the world's atmosphere and bring him home alive.
Gus died along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee in Apollo 1 on January 27, 1967.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that NASA has never really gotten over it.
This is why the Johnson Space Center, just outside of Houston, Texas, is the safest place on the friggin' planet. The speed limit on that campus is something like 15 miles per hour, or thereabouts.
No one is taking any chances, I can tell you, at least when I was there in the summer of 2000.
Grissom is considered a hero and he damn-well should be considered one.
If the heinous schmucks in Cologne, last New Years, represent the worst of humanity, Gus - along with the other steely-eyed missile men - represents the best of us.
I believe that in my soul because I was there doing a little research for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project and spoke with astronauts, men and women, and other NASA personnel.
I even got to meet former Flight Director Gene Kranz simply because he was doing a book tour for Failure is Not an Option, that they turned into the movie Apollo 13 with Ed Harris as Kranz along with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, and Gary Sinise.
I want Grissom to be remembered forever because he, as much as anyone, represents a tremendous turning point in human history... as does Kranz, actually.
This is not just about American History.
This is about a moment in human history that will be remembered long after the US Civil War is forgotten.
I always think that this sounds hokey, but I honestly believe it to be true.
We are the eyes and ears of our planet. We are the means by which Earth is coming to know itself and its relationship with everything around us.
I am sure that all of you have heard of the Hubble Space Telescope.
I bet, however, that a lot of you folk are not familiar with the plans for the James Webb Scope that they are hoping to launch in 2018. Hubble is important, but it resides a mere 300 plus miles from the surface of the Earth. The Web Scope, named after former NASA administrator James Webb, is intended to be launched almost a million miles beyond the surface of our planet.
This instrument, if it functions correctly, will allow humanity to look back to the origins of the universe. Optics is about looking back in time and that is precisely what this thing will do. It will allow us to see the very birth of the universe.
This means it damn-well better work because when we shoot it up there, if it malfunctions like Hubble did, there will be no way to get up there and fix it.
Or so I have read.
Gus actually had kind-of a bad day, that day, and Betty never got to meet Jackie.
"The hatch just blew! Why won't anyone believe me!"