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Author Topic:   Women wearing Mercury spacesuits
spgrissom
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From: Mitchell, Indiana, USA
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posted 11-27-2006 08:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spgrissom   Click Here to Email spgrissom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Has anyone ever seen photos of women wearing Mercury spacesuits?

Spotted on eBay, there is a picture of a woman in Gus Grissom's Mercury suit. I have no clue who she is. I do know though, that it is a Mercury suit.

KSCartist
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posted 11-27-2006 08:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KSCartist   Click Here to Email KSCartist     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My first thought was to respond that it had to be Jerrie Cobb or one of the other "Mercury 13" ladies. But then I saw the photos.

I don't recognize her. Maybe some of our more "senior" members will recognize her.

dsenechal
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posted 11-27-2006 08:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dsenechal   Click Here to Email dsenechal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Best guess would be that the attractive young lady was a model who was hired by an ad agency for a photo shoot for TRW or one of the other aerospace contractors of the time (note that she doesn't have "helmet hair"). They probably borrowed the suit for the occasion.

If you search enough aerospace publications from the early-mid 60's, you'll probably find the picture in someone's ad.

KC Stoever
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posted 11-27-2006 09:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A ghoulish offering. And inauthentic too on all counts. Shame.

On edit: from the eBay offer:

Here we have a couple of very unusual and very large original photographs, self identified as "proofs" of an unknown mystery woman, a model maybe (??) wearing the late Gus Grissom's space suit from the MERCURY 7 era. This is not the space suit he died in. This space suit was retired prior to the accident that claimed his life.

FFrench
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posted 11-27-2006 11:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While this is not who is shown in the suit on eBay, there is a rather famous shot of pioneering women aviator Betty Skelton wearing (I believe) a Mercury spacesuit.

Done for a February 1960 issue of "Look" magazine in which Skelton got to try all kinds of Mercury astronaut trainers, with some guidance from the Mercury guys. All just for a magazine article, however.

I'd be interested if the suit-experts on this site could confirm what suit Skelton is wearing in the shot shown above - thanks.

KC Stoever
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posted 11-28-2006 12:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's a very nice photo, with an interesting silver suit, clearly associated with spaceflight.

What do you think, Francis, in comparing the LOOK photo with the LIFE photo of the spacesuited seven from the same year?

I notice the bulk, for one, in the LOOK photo--and the pocket on the shoulder. It looks different all around.

FFrench
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posted 11-28-2006 01:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree, but it's not really my area of knowledge - looking forward to seeing what the spacesuit gurus on this site say. Looking into this a bit more, it seems that the photos were taken at a number of NASA-related sites, so hard to say which facility she put it on.

In looking that up I see that online, the Look Magazine photo archive for the Library of Congress (specific info. below), there were a number of photos taken, not all of which made the magazine. Does anyone have the 2nd Feb 1960 LOOK magazine issue (or the March 15th issue in which another shot apparently appears)? These would be fascinating photos to see.

TITLE: Girl astronaut
CALL NUMBER: LOOK - Job 59-8504

SUMMARY: Photographs show pilot and auto test driver Betty Skelton undergoing a multitude of physiological tests to assess her fitness to become an astronaut. Includes Skelton with astronauts Wally Schirra, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Donald Slayton, Scott Carpenter and Gordon Cooper at various locations, including the Air Force School of Aviation Medicine, San Antonio, Texas; Naval Air Development Center, Johnsonville, Pa.; McDonnell Aircraft Corp., St. Louis, Mo.; Cape Canaveral, Fla.; and Langley Field, Va. Includes Skelton with Brig. Gen. Don Flicker, asst. for bioastronautics at the Air Research and Development Center. Also Skelton with Soviet space scientists at the American Rocket Society trade show.

Unpublished photographs show Betty Skelton posing at launch pad in a space suit; in street clothes; in a space capsule; training in a swimming pool.

MEDIUM: 55 photographic prints (contact sheets).
published 3 slides : color.
unpublished 21 slides : color.
CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1959 Oct. 5 (date added to Look's library)
CREATOR:
Sandberg, Bob, photographer.
16 images published in: The lady wants to orbit, produced by Ben Kocivar, Look, v. 24, no. 3 (Feb. 2, 1960), p. 112-116, 119 and on cover.
1 image published in: Letters to the editor, Look, v. 24, no. 6 (Mar. 15, 1960), p. 20.
PART OF: Look Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

Tonyq
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posted 11-28-2006 02:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have a copy of the edition with the article in it. There is only one other photo in which she wears the suit, but it it very small and in B&W only. Skelton has the helmet on and is standing with hands on her hips.

There are lots of detail differences from a 'real' Mercury suit, so it may well be prototype of some sort.

goldbera
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posted 11-28-2006 04:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for goldbera     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't forget that the Mercury suits were based on the U.S. Navy Mark V high altitude pressure suits.

Perhaps she's wearing a Navy issue suit, and not a "real" NASA suit.

spgrissom
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posted 11-28-2006 07:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spgrissom   Click Here to Email spgrissom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
True, but were the names of the astronauts on those suits? This one has VI Grissom plainly in the picture.

KC Stoever
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posted 11-28-2006 07:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for KC Stoever   Click Here to Email KC Stoever     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Why would NASA allow a model of uncertain provenance to pose in a bespoke B. F. Goodrich spacesuit?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-28-2006 08:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
An interesting question; one that might be better answered were we to know the identity of the young woman in the spacesuit.

That said, as a result of Betty Grissom's attempt to claim ownership of her late husband's Mercury pressure suit, we know that in mid-1965 NASA signed a loan agreement with Gus for the spacesuit. These photos, at least according to the seller, were supposedly shot in 1965.

That offers a couple of possibilities: (1) that the photos were taken at the behest of the Grissoms, who are known to have held the suit in their possession between mid-1965 and 1990; (2) that the suit in the photo is not the real suit; or (3) that the suit in the photo is real and the shots were taken prior to the Grissoms taking loan of it.

Of course, we are still left with the question: "Why?"

albatron
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posted 11-28-2006 10:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
I'd be interested if the suit-experts on this site could confirm what suit Skelton is wearing in the shot shown above.
As I understand it, this was an X-15 style pressure suit, loaned to Betty to do the ad and Magazine cover with.

It should be noted she did pay to do some of the testing the Mercury 13 gals did, but independently and not as part of a program.

But find a better women's aerobatic pilot, I dare you. At a time women were barely being recognized as pilots, she received the #2 Pitts Special off the line and to me, is arguably the finest women's aerobatic pilot ever.

Tonyq
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posted 11-29-2006 07:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Going back to the original questions about the photos offered on eBay, it seems unlikely we'll be able to identify who she is or why the photos were taken, but a couple of observations:
  1. They are taken against a totally white background which suggests, as someone said earlier, that they may have been used in an advertisement.

  2. The scarf must be of some significance. It's obviously not part of a Mercury astronaut's kit, so why does it appear.

  3. Gus Grissom was quite a short, stocky guy, but the slim, tall girl seems to fill the suit quite amply. Raises the question of whether it is really his suit.
We'll probably never know the answers, but interesting to speculate.

Incidentally, although there are quite a few photos around of non-astronaut women in Apollo era suits, does anyone know of any other images of women in Mercury or Gemini suits?

spgrissom
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posted 11-29-2006 07:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spgrissom   Click Here to Email spgrissom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have seen a photo, and I may still have the photo of a lady standing in her front yard in what appears to be a Gemini suit. A worker took the suit home after it was discarded.

Paul78zephyr
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posted 11-29-2006 09:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Tonyq:
...the slim, tall girl seems to fill the suit quite amply. Raises the question of whether it is really his suit.
I don't think you can tell how tall the woman is in that photo (even the eBay description is of a 'Mystery WOMAN'). She could be 4'10" or 6'1". There is nothing to give scale.

Comparing to other Mercury astronaut photos I believe this suit to be a real V.I. Grissom suit. But it is know that the astronauts had many suits for prototyping, suit testing, other tests, etc, as did the Apollo astronauts and the astronauts today. So it is quite conceivable that this is a genuine suit - perhaps though just not one Grissom had been photographed in.

heng44
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posted 11-30-2006 09:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for heng44   Click Here to Email heng44     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I bought via eBay a photo several years ago that was similar and was made by a (famous?) portrait photographer, but I forgot his name. At the time I found the Grissom photo on the man's website, and I seem to recall he had more portraits like this, with the white background. Anyone know the photographer's name?

Space Cadet Carl
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posted 01-21-2007 12:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Space Cadet Carl   Click Here to Email Space Cadet Carl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I may have this one solved. The Gus Grissom photo from Ed's collection was taken by the legendary portrait and fashion photographer Richard Avedon.

In April 1965, Avedon took photos of both Paul McCartney of The Beatles and fashion model Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mercury spacesuit with the nameplate "V.I. Grissom" appearing on the suit for a Harpers Bazzar magazine article.

I'll bet you that photo of the lovely lady in the Mercury suit is the April 1965 Richard Avedon portrait of Jean Shrimpton, taken at the same time that he put Paul McCartney in the Mercury suit for a photo.

Cameron Stark
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posted 01-21-2007 12:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cameron Stark   Click Here to Email Cameron Stark     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here are photos from this issue of Harper's Bazaar and an interview that covers the event.

FFrench
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posted 01-21-2007 04:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Space Cadet Carl:
I'll bet you that photo of the lovely lady in the Mercury suit is the April 1965 Richard Avedon portrait of Jean Shrimpton, taken at the same time that he put Paul McCartney in the Mercury suit for a photo.
I think we are a lot closer here, as evidently there was a "Grissom suit" making the rounds that fashion photographers could use.

But I don't believe the woman in that suit is Shrimpton - unless I am very much mistaken, it looks nothing like her.

It was interesting to see that photo of McCartney in a spacesuit, which I have never seen before. Perhaps as he took photos of McCartney and Shrimpton, this woman was someone else taken at the same session...?

taneal1
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posted 01-22-2007 12:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for taneal1   Click Here to Email taneal1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are these Mercury suit photos?

Per the Betty Skelton photo: This is obviously not an X-15 suit as has been stated.

The X-15 cockpit and suit were pressurized with non-flammable nitrogen. This required a face seal which is most definitely not visible. The X-15 helmet had a prominent single boom mike which is not present on the helmet. The Mercury helmet had two mikes mounted on the inside of the helmet below the visor.

The X-15 helmet had prominent knobs at the pivot points of the visor to the helmet. This helmet clearly does not, and neither did the Mercury helmet. The dangling Mercury-type communication lead from the left side of the helmet was not present on the X-15 suit.

The zipper on Skelton's suit extends from her left shoulder diagonally across her torso. The X-15 suit zipper on the aluminized "oversuit" is vertical and centered on the torso. The pressure garment did not have a diagonal zipper either and was not aluminized. Unlike the integral aluminized outer layer of the Mercury suit, this is a separate garment.

The heavier "buckles" at the chest that were prominent on the X-15 suit are not in evidence. However the much lighter chest and shoulder straps of the Mercury suit are visible.

The obviously visible and dangling helmet tiedown strap is not a component of an X-15 suit.

There is no "Waffle" like rectangular suit outlet located on the left abdomen. Therefore it is not a Navy Mark IV suit either. The distinctive Mercury trilock adapter however is visible above Skelton's left forearm.

The X-15 wrist seals are much higher on the forearm than on this suit. Also, the silver gloves with the straps across the back of the hand look nothing like the X-15 glove which is entirely black where it covers the hand.

Finally, the boots do not at all resemble the X-15 boots.

Skelton's suit sure looks like an actual Mercury suit to me.

The suit with the blonde: All of the same reasons that Skelton's suit is a Mercury suit, apply to her suit as well.

If the suit is indeed one made for the 5'6" Grissom, I'd like to have seen the 5'10" or 11" Sir James Paul McCartney wearing it!

spgrissom
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posted 01-22-2007 06:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spgrissom   Click Here to Email spgrissom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
I think we are a lot closer here, as evidently there was a "Grissom suit" making the rounds that fashion photographers could use.
I have asked Betty Grissom about this photo and she knew/knows nothing about it. Was not the suit she had in her closet from 1962.

Tonyq
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posted 01-22-2007 06:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The blonde girl is definitely not Jean Shrimpton.

She is the girl in the Harper's Bazaar feature.

This thread does solve another mystery though, as I first saw that image which we now know to be Shrimpton on the sleeve of the Robert Palmer single 'GirlUWant' about 15 years ago, and though is was done for the artwork for that CD.

Later, the image popped up on the web and I realised it was a much older photo and the connection to Harper's was mentioned.

However I never realised it was someone famous, so thanks for solving one mystery.

Tonyq
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posted 11-10-2008 12:49 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well, two years after we all pondered over those intriguing photos of a mystery blonde girl in Gus Grissom's Mercury suit, the solution is here.
The images (and there were a lot of them) were shot on June 10, 1965 and the requestors were R. Crowe and J. Riehman with three entries for Project: Sentinel, Advertizing and TRW advertizing (yes, spelled like that). Another name mentioned was Don Stoehr.

...in the July 2, 1965 issue were several of the photographs and the mysterious blonde woman was identified as Donna Plotner, executive secretary to Frederick W. Hesse, Vice President of Operations at that time.

It now turns out that in response to an e-mail I sent at the time, the story was actually published on the web back in January 2007, but I just stumbled upon this 'reveal' today.

So, we now know the date and circumstances of the photoshoot, the identity of the girl, and even her current whereabouts.

I do intend to contact both the author of the article and Donna Bane, and I'll post any further developments here.

I guess this shows that pretty much anything can be solved over the internet. Just a shame it took two years to find the answer!

Tonyq
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posted 10-19-2011 08:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To reactivate this old thread, here is a photo which has recently surfaced from the same Richard Avedon set as the famous Shrimpton image mentioned above.

This is a different girl, and while I think I know who she is I'm not 100% sure, and hope to get confirmation in a day or two.

In the meantime...

music_space
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posted 10-19-2011 09:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Good stuff, people!

moorouge
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posted 10-20-2011 01:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is that a cigarette in her left hand? If so, it's in keeping with the age as most of the Mercury astronauts indulged.

Space Cadet Carl
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posted 10-21-2011 09:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Space Cadet Carl   Click Here to Email Space Cadet Carl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Space Cadet Carl:
In April 1965, Avedon took photos of both Paul McCartney of The Beatles and fashion model Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mercury spacesuit with the nameplate "V.I. Grissom" appearing on the suit for a Harpers Bazzar magazine article.
Paul McCartney in the Mercury suit, by the great Richard Avedon.

Rob Joyner
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posted 10-21-2011 08:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rob Joyner   Click Here to Email Rob Joyner     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ready for the Venus and Mars Rock Show!

mjanovec
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posted 10-21-2011 11:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Now that would one cool "astronaut" photo to get signed!

I already have an item signed by all four Beatles, but that would be a neat link between my love for music and spaceflight.

Tonyq
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From: UK
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posted 10-22-2011 11:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Is that a cigarette in her left hand? If so, it's in keeping with the age as most of the Mercury astronauts indulged.
I'd noticed that too, but can't be sure if it is a cigarette or a piece of the binding in the glove she is holding.

By the way, I now know that her name is Natividad (Nati) Abascal, a Spanish model of aristocratic background who is still active today, in her late sixties.

Captain Apollo
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posted 10-22-2011 12:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Captain Apollo   Click Here to Email Captain Apollo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wonder if the image of McCartney is like that (head and shoulders) because he could only partly get into the suit? He's about 5 11 and Gus was what, 5 5?

Tonyq
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From: UK
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posted 10-23-2011 05:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think you are mixing up the two photos shoots. The suit that Ricard Avedon used for the Shrimpton/McCartney/Abascal shoot had no connection with Grissom. Jean Shrimpton was 5'10" too.

Captain Apollo
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posted 10-23-2011 01:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Captain Apollo   Click Here to Email Captain Apollo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't follow - it says in a post above:

"In April 1965, Avedon took photos of both Paul McCartney of The Beatles and fashion model Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mercury spacesuit with the nameplate "V.I. Grissom" appearing on the suit for a Harpers Bazzar magazine article."

Here is what seems to be another from the set

And I think this is the image that was in the edition of Harpers:

Tonyq
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posted 10-23-2011 04:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tonyq   Click Here to Email Tonyq     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Captain Apollo:
Don't follow - it says in a post above...
If you go back to the very beginning of this thread, it starts with a photo of a woman wearing a suit with Grissom's name on it. That is not in dispute, but that photoshoot is unrelated to the Avedon/Shrimpton/McCartney shoot. The story of that photo is revealed later in the thread.

The quote you have repeated above is incorrect, in referencing Grissom. The suit used by Avedon did not have a name patch on it. That can be clearly seen on the photo of Shrimpton and the one of Abascal.

Paul23
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posted 10-24-2011 03:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul23   Click Here to Email Paul23     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is it just me or does Macca look a wee bit 'spaced out' in that photo?!

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