Nov 28, 2005 (01:11 PM EST)
Teen Takes On Smithsonian In Bid To Reclaim Spacesuit
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
A tenacious teen is seeking a corporate backer for her attempts to return the late astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom’s spacesuit to his home state of Indiana.
Fifteen-year-old Amanda Meyer says that Grissom, who died on January 27, 1967 in a flash fire in the spacecraft he was training to fly on the first manned Apollo mission, is her hero. She has visited his grave in Arlington National Cemetery and has viewed mission artifacts housed at the Kennedy Space Center
Earlier this year, she spoke with Grissom’s son Scott. That’s when her crusade began. As Meyer relates on her Web site, she learned that Betty Grissom had kept one of her husband's spacesuits for about 30 years before loaning it to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
According to accounts from Meyer and several media outlets, members of the Grissom family asked for the Gemini suit back but were told it was government property, notwithstanding Betty Grissom’s claim that her late husband though had rescued it from the trash. Scott Grissom did not return calls for comment for this story and Betty Grissom could not be reached.
NASA claims the astronaut signed the spacesuit out for a presentation. In 2003, ownership of the museum housing the suit was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian maintains that there is no question of government ownership, even if the suit hung in a private closet for decades. It remains at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Meyer, who lives in Madison, Conn., has created an online petition, which presents a compromise she hopes to achieve. She believes the Virgil Grissom Memorial Museum, near the astronaut's birthplace of Mitchell, Ind. would be an appropriate location and would allow both sides to save face. The museum houses Grissom's Gemini spacecraft and spacesuit.
Meyer has appealed to every member of the U.S. Senate, gained a following of thousands of supporters, and recently mailed a registered letter to Vice President Dick Cheney. She is also hoping to speak before the Senate.
On her Web site, Meyer wrote that the Smithsonian agreed to send the suit to the memorial museum but it would cost about $23,000 to clean and transport the suit from Florida and to store it in Indiana. Though the Smithsonian Institution recently signed an agreement to keep the suit on loan in Florida for another two years nixing hopes for transfer anytime soon, Meyer is pressing on with her request for corporate backing.
She said in an interview Monday that a pledge would help in the event that her fight pays off and it could add weight to her cause. Lockheed Martin turned her down. GE hasn't responded to her request.
Peter Golkin, spokesman for the National Air and Space Museum, said he doesn't know where she came up with the $23,000 figure. He claims no one promised to send the spacesuit to Indiana and national curators have the experience and authority to decide when and where to loan artifacts. He said no museum in the United States has two astronauts' suits on loan from the Smithsonian.
Meyer and her mother claim the Smithsonian promised to allow Amanda to speak before a committee that would decide the fate of the spacesuit, but Golkin said: "There are no open committee hearings on artifact loans."
Golkin said the Smithsonian weighs requests from family members and other interested parties but he's not aware of any letters from the family requesting that the suit be sent to the memorial museum. And, he said, the Smithsonian can't move artifacts just because that's what people want.
"People have their beliefs and stand by them," he said. "We have to stand by the facts."
Meyer has obtained support and admiration from officials in Indiana who said that they wrote the Smithsonian in October saying they would like to have the spacesuit on loan if it becomes available. "I know that this young lady is persevering, and I tell you what a wonderful, wonderful challenge this is," said Dan Bortner, the Indiana state park official who agreed to support the request. "It's just outstanding. She has really put her work into this and really made a passion out of it. Regardless of the outcome, you've got to give this young lady credit for having a vision and actually trying to make it happen."
The young student and would-be astronaut vows to persevere. "I just wanted to do this and once I start I really don't stop until I get done what I need to get done," Meyer said. "There have been ups and downs throughout this whole process, but in the end, I think things are going to end positively for this family."