Astro­naut’s widow who sued in hus­band’s death dies at 91

San Antonio Express-News - - BUSINESS -

Betty Gris­som, the widow of astro­naut Virgil Gris­som, whose death in a launch­pad fire in 1967 led her to sue a NASA con­trac­tor, died last Satur­day at her home in Hous­ton. She was 91.

Her son Mark con­firmed the death. He said neigh­bors had no­ticed that Gris­som had picked up her morn­ing news­pa­per but not her af­ter­noon mail and went to check on her. The cause of death was not known.

Virgil Gris­som, known as Gus, one of the seven orig­i­nal Mer­cury as­tro­nauts im­mor­tal­ized by Tom Wolfe in his book “The Right Stuff,” was the sec­ond Amer­i­can in space. He was also the com­mand pi­lot of Apollo 1, which was in­tended to test the Apollo cap­sule for flights to the moon.

But dur­ing a rou­tine test at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Florida, an elec­tri­cal fire swept through the com­mand mod­ule, killing all three as­tro­nauts aboard — Gris­som, Ed­ward White and Roger Chaf­fee.

It was the first fa­tal ac­ci­dent in the his­tory of the U.S. space pro­gram. Gris­som was 40.

Mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions fol­lowed. While they never pin­pointed the source of the fire, they con­cluded that sev­eral de­sign flaws had ex­ac­er­bated it.

NASA sub­se­quently un­der­took ma­jor mod­i­fi­ca­tions in de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and pro­ce­dures, in­clud­ing mak­ing non­flammable space­suits. Com­bustible ma­te­ri­als in the cabin were re­placed with self-ex­tin­guish­ing ver­sions.

Nearly four years af­ter the fire, Gris­som’s widow filed a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar wrong­ful death suit against the Apollo pro­gram’s pri­mary con­trac­tor, North Amer­i­can Rock­well. (The gov­ern­ment it­self can­not be sued.)

The statute of lim­i­ta­tions for wrong­ful death for sur­vivors was two years and had ex­pired, said Ron­ald Krist, the Hous­ton lawyer who rep­re­sented Gris­som. But the gen­eral neg­li­gence statute was four years and had not ex­pired, al­low­ing her to sue for Gris­som’s pain and suf­fer­ing. She set­tled for $350,000, or about $2.2 mil­lion in to­day’s dol­lars.

Her ac­tion brought Gris­som con­sid­er­able grief, with strangers ac­cus­ing her of be­ing un­pa­tri­otic and the close-knit space com­mu­nity shun­ning her.

The ex­pe­ri­ence em­bit­tered the fam­ily, said Mark Gris­som, who was 13 when his fa­ther died.

In ad­di­tion to her son Mark, Gris­som is sur­vived by an­other son, Scott; two grand­chil­dren; and one great-grand­child.

Betty Gris­som, widow of astro­naut Virgil Gris­som, died at her home in Hous­ton last week­end.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.