Encyclopedia Astronautica
Grissom



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Grissom
Credit: www.spacefacts.de - www.spacefacts.de
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Apollo 204
Apollo 1 prime crew in spacesuits at the launch complex
Credit: NASA
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G3C Space Suits
Grissom and Young in their G3C suits for Gemini 3. This was the only flight the suits were used on.
Credit: NASA
Grissom, Virgil Ivan 'Gus' (1926-1967) American test pilot astronaut. Flew on Mercury MR-4, Gemini 3. Second American in space and first Gemini commander. Flew 100 combat missions in Korea. Died in on-pad fire of Apollo 1.

NAME: Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom

BIRTHPLACE AND DATE: Grissom was born in Mitchell, Indiana., on April 3, 1926.

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University.

EXPERIENCE: Grissom received his Air Force wings in 1951 and flew 100 combat missions in Korea in F-86 Sabres with the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. After returning to the United States he was a jet instructor at Bryan, Texas. In 1955, he studied aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology, then went to the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California. In 1957 he went to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio as a test pilot in the fighter branch.

NASA selected Grissom as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts in 1959. He made the second 15-minute suborbital Mercury flight on July 21, 1961, aboard the capsule Liberty Bell 7. After splashdown in the Atlantic, explosive bolts holding the emergency exit hatch blew without warning and water filled the capsule, forcing Grissom into the ocean. He was rescued by helicopter, but the capsule sank. As senior astronaut in the US team after the departures of Glenn and Shepard, Grissom commanded the maiden flight of the two-man Gemini capsule. With him on Gemini 3 was rookie John Young. During a three-orbit flight the Grissom conducted the first manoeuvres in orbit by a manned spacecraft. Grissom was assigned to command the first manned flight test of the Apollo capsule. He died along with astronauts Edward White II and Roger Chaffee in a fire during a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


Birth Place: Mitchell, Indiana.
Status: Deceased.


Born: 1926.04.03.
Died: 1967.01.27.
Spaceflights: 2 .
Total time in space: 0.21 days.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
See also
  • Astronaut Category of persons, applied to those trained for spaceflight outside of Russia and China. More...
  • NASA Group 1 - 1959 Requirement: six pilots for the single-crew Mercury manned spacecraft. Originally a wide pool of candidates was going to be considered, but in December 1958 President Eisenhower ruled that military test pilots would form the candidate pool. Nickname: The Original Seven More...

Associated Flights
  • Mercury MR-3A Crew: Shepard. After booster problems on Mercury MR-2, von Braun insisted on a further unmanned booster test. This proved to be unnecessary. If NASA had overruled Von Braun, Shepard would have been the first man in space, beating Gagarin's flight by three weeks. Backup crew: Grissom. More...
  • Mercury MR-3 Crew: Shepard. First American in space, less than a month after Gagarin, but only on a 15 minute suborbital flight. First manual orientation of a manned spacecraft. Backup crew: Grissom. More...
  • Mercury MR-4 Crew: Grissom. Suborbital flight; second American in space. Hatch blew after splashdown; capsule sank; astronaut barely saved before drowning. Backup crew: Glenn. More...
  • Mercury MA-11 Crew: Grissom. Planned third one-day Mercury flight. Cancelled as too risky after Mercury MA-9 achieved objective, but only after failure of many spacecraft systems. Backup crew: Schirra. More...
  • Gemini 3 Crew: Grissom, Young. First spacecraft to maneuver in orbit. First manned flight of Gemini spacecraft. First American to fly twice into space. Manual reentry, splashed down 97 km from carrier. Backup crew: Schirra, Stafford. More...
  • Gemini 6 Crew: Schirra, Stafford. First rendezvous of two spacecraft. Originally was to dock with an Agena target, but this blew up on way to orbit. Decision to rendezvous with upcoming Gemini 7 instead. Mission almost lost when booster ignited, then shut down on pad. Backup crew: Grissom, Young. More...
  • Apollo 204 Crew: Chaffee, Grissom, White. The first manned flight of the Apollo CSM, the Apollo C category mission. Crew killed in a fire while testing their capsule on the pad on 27 January 1967, still weeks away from launch. Set back Apollo program by 18 months. Backup crew: McDivitt, Scott, Schweickart, Schirra, Eisele, Cunningham. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • USAF American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. United States Air Force, USA. More...

Associated Programs
  • Gemini Gemini was conceived as an 'upgraded Mercury' to test essential orbital manoeuvring, rendezvous, docking, lifting re-entry, and space walking techniques in the four years between the last Mercury flight and the first scheduled Apollo flight. If fulfilled this mission, and numerous variants that never reached production would have serviced manned space stations and taken Americans around and to the moon - at lower cost and earlier than Apollo. More...
  • Mercury Mercury was America's first man-in-space project. Setting the precedent for the later Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle programs, any capsule configuration proposed by the contractors was acceptable as long as it was the one NASA's Langley facility, and in particular, Max Faget, had developed. McDonnell, at that time a renegade contractor of innovative Navy fighters that had a history of problems in service, received the contract. The capsule had to be as small as possible to match the payload capability of America's first ICBM, the Atlas, which would be used for orbital missions. The resulting design was less than a third of the weight of the Russian Vostok spacecraft, and more limited as a result. More...

Grissom Chronology


1959 April 2 - .
  • NASA Astronaut Training Group 1 selected. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Carpenter; Cooper; Glenn; Grissom; Schirra; Shepard; Slayton. The group was selected to provide six pilots for the single-crew Mercury manned spacecraft. Originally a wide pool of candidates was going to be considered, but in December 1958 President Eisenhower ruled that military test pilots would form the candidate pool.. Qualifications: Qualified jet pilot with minimum 1,500 flight-hours/10 years experience, graduate of test pilot school, bachelor's degree or equivalent, under 40 years old, under 180 cm height, excellent physical condition.. Screening of military service records showed 110 military officers that met these criteria. These 110 were to be called in three groups for briefings on the Mercury program. Of the first two groups of 35 called, 56 volunteered for further physical and psychiatric tests. This provided enough candidates and the third group was never even called for a briefing or asked if they would like to volunteer. Of the 56 tested, seven were finally selected (no objective way was found to reduce the seven finalists to six).

    Of the seven astronauts, all eventually flew in space. Grounded due to a heart murmur, Slayton had to wait 16 years for his flight aboard the last Apollo mission. Glenn left for a career in politics after becoming the first American to orbit the earth, but returned to space aboard a shuttle over 36 years later in a NASA publicity stunt. Schirra was the only astronaut to fly aboard Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. Shepard was the only one to reach the lunar surface (after being grounded for a medical condition during the Gemini program). Grissom would die in the Apollo 204 ground fire.


1959 April 2 - .
  • Seven astronauts selected for Mercury project. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Cooper; Grissom; Slayton; Carpenter; Shepard; Schirra; Glenn. Program: Mercury. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Spacecraft: Mercury. Seven astronauts were selected for Project Mercury after a series of the most rigorous physical and mental tests ever given to U.S. test pilots. Chosen from a field of 110 candidates, the finalists were all qualified test pilots: Capts. Leroy G. Cooper, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, and Donald K. Slayton, (USAF); Lt. Malcolm S. Carpenter, Lt. Comdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Lt. Comdr. Watler M. Schirra, Jr. (USN); and Lt. Col. John H. Glenn (USMC).

1961 February 10 - .
  • Hydrogen-peroxide fuel economy for the Mercury spacecraft. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom. Program: Mercury. Spacecraft: Mercury; Mercury Retrorockets. Measures to be taken for hydrogen-peroxide fuel economy for the Mercury spacecraft attitude control system were studied at a coordination meeting. Items considered were orbital attitude, retroattitude hold sequence, and salvo versus ripple retrorocket firing. Astronaut Virgil Grissom reported that the salvo method had already been proven to be unsatisfactory on the Mercury procedures trainer.

1961 February 21 - .
  • First Mercury crews selected. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Shepard; Grissom; Glenn. Program: Mercury. Summary: NASA Space Task Group selected John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, and Alan B. Shepard, Jr., to begin special training for first manned Mercury space flight..

1961 February 21 - .
  • Glenn, Grissom, and Shepard selected to begin training for the first manned Mercury flight. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Shepard; Grissom; Glenn. Program: Mercury. Summary: Astronauts John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, and Alan Shepard were selected by the Space Task Group to begin special training for the first manned Mercury flight..

1961 March 24 - .
  • Mercury MR-3A (cancelled) - . Call Sign: Freedom 7. Crew: Shepard. Backup Crew: Grissom. Payload: Mercury SC7. Nation: USA. Related Persons: von Braun; Shepard; Grissom. Program: Mercury. Flight: Mercury MR-3A. Spacecraft: Mercury. After booster problems on the Mercury MR-2 chimp test flight, Von Braun insisted on a further unmanned booster test flight, against the wishes of Shepard and others at NASA. A Mercury boilerplate capsule was launched on a flawless test on 24 March. If NASA had overruled Von Braun, the manned Freedom 7 capsule would have flown instead. Shepard would have been the first man in space (though not in orbit), beating Gagarin's flight by three weeks.

1961 April 4 - . LV Family: Redstone. Launch Vehicle: Redstone MRLV.
  • Glenn, Grissom, and Shepard refresher course on centrifuge for Mercury - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Shepard; Grissom; Glenn. Program: Mercury. Glenn, Grissom, and Shepard began refresher course on centrifuge in preparation for the first manned Mercury-Redstone suborbital flight. John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, and Alan Shepard began a refresher course on the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory centrifuge in preparation for the first manned Mercury-Redstone suborbital flight.

1961 May 5 - . 14:34 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC5. LV Family: Redstone. Launch Vehicle: Redstone MRLV. LV Configuration: Redstone MRLV-7.
  • Mercury MR-3 - . Call Sign: Freedom 7. Crew: Shepard. Backup Crew: Grissom. Nation: USA. Related Persons: Shepard; Grissom. Agency: NASA. Program: Mercury. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Flight: Mercury MR-3. Spacecraft: Mercury. Apogee: 187 km (116 mi). Alan Shepard first American in space, less than a month after Gagarin and only on a 15 minute suborbital flight. Only manned flight with original Mercury capsule design (tiny round porthole and periscope a la Vostok). If NASA had not listened to Von Braun, Shepard would have flown on the MR-BD flight of 24 March, beating Gagarin by three weeks and becoming the first man in space (though not in orbit). Shepard's capsule reached an altitude of 115.696 miles, range of 302 miles,and speed of 5,100 miles per hour. He demonstrated control of a vehicle during weightlessness and high G stresses. Recovery operations were perfect; there was no damage to the spacecraft; and Astronaut Shepard was in excellent condition.

1961 July 18-19 - .
  • Two attempts made to launch Mercury MR-4 - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom. Program: Mercury. Flight: Mercury MR-4. Summary: Two attempts were made to launch Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) with astronaut Virgil Grissom aboard the spacecraft, but unfavorable weather forced mission postponement..

1961 July 21 - . 12:20 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC5. LV Family: Redstone. Launch Vehicle: Redstone MRLV. LV Configuration: Redstone MRLV-8.
  • Mercury MR-4 - . Call Sign: Liberty Bell 7. Crew: Grissom. Backup Crew: Glenn. Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Glenn. Agency: NASA. Program: Mercury. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Flight: Mercury MR-4. Spacecraft: Mercury. Apogee: 189 km (117 mi). The Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, manned by Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom, boosted by a Redstone rocket, reached a peak altitude of 190.3 km and a speed of 8,335 km per hour. After a flight of 15 minutes and 37 seconds, the landing was made 487 km downrange from the launch site. The hatch blew while still in water, and the capsule sank; Grissom saved, though his suit was filling up with water through open oxygen inlet lines.

    This was the second and final manned suborbital Mercury Redstone flight, and the first flight with trapezoidal window. Further suborbital flights (each astronaut was to make one as a training exercise) were cancelled. An attempt to recover the capsule in very deep water in 1994 not successful. It was finally raised in the summer of 1999.


1961 July 22 - .
  • Grissom awarded NASA Distinguished Service Medal - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Webb. Program: Mercury. Summary: Astronaut Virgil Grissom, pilot of the MR-4 Liberty Bell 7, was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by NASA Administrator James Webb at the conclusion of the MR-4 press conference held at Cape Canaveral..

1961 October 1 - .
  • Mercury ship recovery demonstration. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom. Program: Mercury. Summary: Bland demonstrated capability of a destroyer to recover MR-2 Mercury capsule, with Virgil Grissom aboard, from water in series of pickups in lower Chesapeake Bay..

1961 December 6 - .
  • Shepard and Grissom awarded the first Astronaut Wings - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Shepard; Grissom. Program: Mercury. Summary: In a joint ceremony, astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom were awarded the first Astronaut Wings by their respective services..

1962 July 10 - .
  • First Apollo mockup inspection - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Gilruth; Grissom. Program: Apollo. Summary: The first Apollo spacecraft mockup inspection was held at NAA's Space and Information Systems Division. In attendance were Robert R. Gilruth, Director, MSC; Charles W. Frick, Apollo Program Manager, MSC; and Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom..

1963 January 26 - .
  • New assignments for the seven original astronauts - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Cooper; Grissom; Slayton; Carpenter; Shepard; Schirra; Glenn; Armstrong; Borman; Conrad; Lovell; McDivitt; See; Stafford; White; Young. Program: Apollo. Spacecraft: Gemini. MSC announced new assignments for the seven original astronauts: L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., and Alan B. Shepard, Jr., would be responsible for the remaining pilot phases of Project Mercury; Virgil I. Grissom would specialize in Project Gemini; John H. Glenn, Jr., would concentrate on Project Apollo; M. Scott Carpenter would cover lunar excursion training; and Walter M. Schirra, Jr., would be responsible for Gemini and Apollo operations and training. As Coordinator for Astronaut Activities, Donald K. Slayton would maintain overall supervision of astronaut duties.

    Specialty areas for the second generation were: trainers and simulators, Neil A. Armstrong; boosters, Frank Borman; cockpit layout and systems integration, Charles Conrad, Jr.; recovery system, James A. Lovell, Jr.; guidance and navigation, James A. McDivitt; electrical, sequential, and mission planning, Elliot M. See, Jr.; communications, instrumentation, and range integration, Thomas P. Stafford; flight control systems, Edward H. White II; and environmental control systems, personal equipment, and survival equipment, John W. Young.


By the end of 1963 - . LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D Mercury s/n 152D.
  • Mercury MA-11 (cancelled) - . Crew: Grissom. Backup Crew: Schirra. Payload: Mercury SC12B. Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Schirra. Program: Mercury. Flight: Mercury MA-11. Spacecraft: Mercury. From October 25, 1961 until April 1962 NASA’s Mercury program plan included four one-day flights in 1963. By October 1962 the decision had been quietly taken to limit the long-duration flights to only MA-9 and MA-10. MA-10 was fnally cancelled in turn after the successful MA-9 mission.

1964 April 13 - .
  • Grissom and Young prime crew for the first manned Gemini flight. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Young. Flight: Gemini 3. Summary: Director Robert R. Gilruth, Manned Spacecraft Center, announced Astronauts Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young as the prime crew for the first manned Gemini flight. Astronauts Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Thomas P. Stafford would be the backup crew. .

1965 February 21 - . LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 2.
  • Gemini-Titan 3 crew egress training. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Young. Flight: Gemini 3. Summary: During the week, the Gemini-Titan 3 prime crew participated in egress training from static article No. 5 in the Gulf of Mexico. A. Additional Details: here....

1965 March 23 - . 14:24 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC19. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan II GLV. LV Configuration: Titan II GLV GT-3 / 62-12558.
  • Gemini 3 - . Call Sign: Molly Brown (from Broadway play 'The Unsinkable..'. Crew: Grissom; Young. Backup Crew: Schirra; Stafford. Payload: Gemini SC3. Mass: 3,225 kg (7,109 lb). Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Young; Schirra; Stafford. Agency: NASA Houston. Program: Gemini. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Flight: Gemini 3. Spacecraft: Gemini. Duration: 0.20 days. Decay Date: 1965-03-23 . USAF Sat Cat: 1301 . COSPAR: 1965-024A. Apogee: 240 km (140 mi). Perigee: 160 km (90 mi). Inclination: 33.0000 deg. Period: 88.40 min. First manned test flight of Gemini. Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young entered an elliptical orbit about the earth. After three orbits, the pair manually landed their spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean, thus performing the first controlled reentry. Unfortunately, they landed much farther from the landing zone than anticipated, about 97 km (60 miles) from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Intrepid. But otherwise the mission was highly successful. Gemini III, America's first two-manned space mission, also was the first manned vehicle that was maneuverable. Grissom used the vehicle's maneuvering rockets to effect orbital and plane changes. Grissom wanted to name the spacecraft 'Molly Brown' (as in the Unsinkable, a Debbie Reynolds/Howard Keel screen musical). NASA was not amused and stopped allowing the astronauts to name their spacecraft (until forced to when having two spacecraft aloft at once during the Apollo missions). The flight by Young was the first of an astronaut outside of the original seven. Young, who created a media flap by taking a corned beef sandwich aboard as a prank, would go on to fly to the moon on Apollo and the Space Shuttle on its first flight sixteen years later.

1965 April 5 - . LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan 2.
  • Schirra and Stafford selected for Gemini-Titan 6. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; Young; Schirra; Stafford. Flight: Gemini 6. Manned Spacecraft Center announced that Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Thomas P. Stafford had been selected as command pilot and pilot for Gemini-Titan 6, the first Gemini rendezvous and docking mission. Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young would be the backup crew.

1965 December 15 - . 13:37 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC19. LV Family: Titan. Launch Vehicle: Titan II GLV. LV Configuration: Titan II GLV GT-6 / 62-12561.
  • Gemini 6 - . Call Sign: Gemini 6. Crew: Schirra; Stafford. Backup Crew: Grissom; Young. Payload: Gemini SC6. Mass: 3,546 kg (7,817 lb). Nation: USA. Related Persons: Schirra; Stafford; Grissom; Young. Agency: NASA Houston. Program: Gemini. Class: Manned. Type: Manned spacecraft. Flight: Gemini 6; Gemini 7. Spacecraft: Gemini; Gemini Radar. Duration: 1.08 days. Decay Date: 1965-12-16 . USAF Sat Cat: 1839 . COSPAR: 1965-104A. Apogee: 271 km (168 mi). Perigee: 258 km (160 mi). Inclination: 28.9000 deg. Period: 89.60 min. The primary objective of the mission, crewed by command pilot Astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and pilot Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, was to rendezvous with spacecraft No. 7. Among the secondary objectives were stationkeeping with spacecraft No. 7, evaluating spacecraft reentry guidance capability, testing the visibility of spacecraft No. 7 as a rendezvous target, and conducting three experiments. After the launch vehicle inserted the spacecraft into an 87 by 140 nautical mile orbit, the crew prepared for the maneuvers necessary to achieve rendezvous. Four maneuvers preceded the first radar contact between the two spacecraft. The first maneuver, a height adjustment, came an hour and a half after insertion, at first perigee; a phase adjustment at second apogee, a plane change, and another height adjustment at second perigee followed. The onboard radar was turned on 3 hours into the mission. The first radar lock-on indicated 246 miles between the two spacecraft. The coelliptic maneuver was performed at third apogee, 3 hours 47 minutes after launch. The terminal phase initiation maneuver was performed an hour and a half later. Two midcourse corrections preceded final braking maneuvers at 5 hours 50 minutes into the flight. Rendezvous was technically accomplished and stationkeeping began some 6 minutes later when the two spacecraft were about 120 feet apart and their relative motion had stopped. Stationkeeping maneuvers continued for three and a half orbits at distances from 1 to 300 feet. Spacecraft No. 6 then initiated a separation maneuver and withdrew to a range of about 30 miles. The only major malfunction in spacecraft No. 6 during the mission was the failure of the delayed-time telemetry tape recorder at 20 hours 55 minutes ground elapsed time, which resulted in the loss of all delayed-time telemetry data for the remainder of the mission, some 4 hours and 20 minutes. The flight ended with a nominal reentry and landing in the West Atlantic, just 10 km from the planned landing point, on December 16. The crew remained in the spacecraft, which was recovered an hour later by the prime recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Wasp.

    Gemini 6 was to have been the first flight involving docking with an Agena target/propulsion stage. However the Agena blew up on the way to orbit, and the spacecraft was replaced by Gemini 7 in the launch order.

    For lack of a target, NASA decided to have Gemini 6 rendezvous with Gemini 7. This would require a quick one week turnaround of the pad after launch, no problem with Russian equipment but a big accomplishment for the Americans. The first launch attempt was aborted; the Titan II ignited for a moment, then shut down and settled back down on its launch attachments. Schirra waited it out, did not pull the abort handles that would send the man catapulting out of the capsule on their notoriously unreliable ejection seats. The booster was safed; Schirra had saved the mission and the launch three days later went perfectly. The flight went on to achieve the first manned space rendezvous controlled entirely by the self-contained, on-board guidance, control, and navigation system. This system provided the crew of Gemini 6 with attitude, thrusting, and time information needed for them to control the spacecraft during the rendezvous. Under Schirra's typically precise command, the operation was so successful that the rendezvous was complete with fuel consumption only 5% above the planned value to reach 16 m separation from Gemini 7.


1966 October 19 - . LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn I.
1967 January 27 - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. LV Family: Saturn I. Launch Vehicle: Saturn IB.
1967 January 31 - .
  • Funeral services for the Apollo 204 crewmen - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Grissom; White; Chaffee. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 204. Funeral services were held for the Apollo crewmen who died in the January 27 spacecraft 012 (Apollo 204 mission) flash fire at Cape Kennedy. All three were buried with full military honors: Virgil I. Grissom (Lt. Col., USAF), and Roger B. Chaffee (Lt. Cdr., USN), in Arlington, Va., National Cemetery; and Edward H. White II (Lt. Col., USAF), at West Point, N.Y. Memorial services had been held in Houston January 29 and 30.

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