Liberty Bell 7

The Liberty Bell 7 was the capsule that flew on board a Mercury-Redstone rocket for the second U.S. manned spaceflight with Gus Grissom in 1961. This was a suborbital flight that only lasted a little over fifteen minutes and all went well until splashdown.

The hatch cover was designed to release via a small explosive device in the event of an emergency. For some reason, it was unintentionally activated shortly after the capsule landed in the ocean. Gus Grissom escaped safely (though he would later die in the Apollo 1 fire), but the capsule sank before it could be recovered.

Nearly 40 years later in 1999 it was finally recovered in 16,000 feet of water after a fourteen year private effort to find and retrieve it financed by the Discovery Channel. Ironically, while the emergency explosive device on the hatch exploded when it wasn’t supposed to, another explosive device designed to produce a sound to aid location in the event of sinking did not detonate. This had to be removed upon recovery.

After the Liberty Bell 7 was taken apart, cleaned and reassembled it went on a national tour for several years. Today, it’s home is in the Cosmosphere, a museum in Kansas, but in October 2000 when these pictures were taken it was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.