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  Calculated Risk: Life of Gus Grissom (Leopold)

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Author Topic:   Calculated Risk: Life of Gus Grissom (Leopold)
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 39258
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-11-2015 10:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
George Leopold writes on his blog:
My biography of the American astronaut Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom," will be released by Purdue University Press in June 2016.

My thesis challenges the prevailing view of Gus Grissom as a "hard luck" astronaut or the "lost astronaut." He was neither, and knew at every step in his flying career where he was going and how he would get there. The meticulous engineering test pilot calculated the risks and attempted on each of his space flights to minimize them.

The odds – statistical probability in a "crash program" to reach the moon before the Soviets – eventually caught up with Gus Grissom. He nevertheless believed that the rewards were worth the risk.

As the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire approaches, a tragedy that claimed the lives of Grissom and his crew, it is time to reassess the pioneering astronaut’s life and career and the enduring contributions he made to the history of human space exploration.

As my publisher and I prepare for the release of "Calculated Risk," I'll provide periodic updates here, including an image of the book's cover.

America is in need of heroes. Gus Grissom was an authentic risk taker and a hero who helped humanity reach another world.

Silent Sea

Posts: 33
Registered: Mar 2015

posted 06-11-2015 09:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Silent Sea     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Firstly, this sounds incredibly intriguing and I will definitely be reading it.

Now. I admit I've not read "The Right Stuff" beyond the first chapter and I've seen the movie only once, but from my reading it seems that this is the main source of some people's thinking of Gus Grissom as messing up and this book is, for lack of better term, an antidote to such thinking.

Is the reference to the "lost astronaut" in reference to Ray E. Boomhower's book on Grissom? That book called out "The Right Stuff" and I thought did an admirable job of telling Gus's story. It's a good solid biography, in my opinion. Would love to hear other people's thoughts, though.

I sincerely hope this upcoming book gets some good publicity because the thesis is really a compelling one and I look forward to reading about Grissom from this particular angle.


Posts: 642
From: Cinci, OH
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 06-19-2015 07:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does anyone have the author's contact information? I didn't find it on his blog. I'd like to get in touch with him about this project.


Posts: 31
From: Reston, VA, USA
Registered: Jun 2010

posted 11-06-2015 07:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gleopold   Click Here to Email gleopold     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My biography of Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom," is scheduled for release from Purdue University Press in mid-June 2016.

David Carey

Posts: 683
Registered: Mar 2009

posted 11-07-2015 11:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for David Carey   Click Here to Email David Carey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In 2009 George spearheaded a publication for EETimes, aligned to the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing.

Along with his own great content he provided superb editing for contributors, and I'm sure the new book will reflect his craft.

Look forward to reading it George!


Posts: 5877
From: Geneva, Switzerland
Registered: May 2006

posted 01-14-2016 01:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom
by George Leopold
Unlike other American astronauts, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom never had the chance to publish his memoirs — save for an account of his role in the Gemini program — before the tragic launch pad fire on January 27, 1967, which took his life and those of Edward White and Roger Chaffee. The international prestige of winning the Moon Race cannot be understated, and Grissom played a pivotal and enduring role in securing that legacy for the United States. Indeed, Grissom was first and foremost a Cold Warrior, a member of the first group of Mercury astronauts whose goal it was to beat the Soviet Union to the moon.

Drawing on extensive interviews with fellow astronauts, NASA engineers, family members, and friends of Gus Grissom, George Leopold delivers a comprehensive survey of Grissom's life that places his career in the context of the Cold War and the history of human spaceflight.

Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom adds significantly to our understanding of that tumultuous period in American history.

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Purdue University Press (June 15, 2016)
  • ISBN-10: 1557537453
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557537454


Posts: 2055
From: Plano TX (USA)
Registered: Aug 2005

posted 07-21-2016 09:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for capoetc   Click Here to Email capoetc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nice write-up on this book in the Wall Street Journal last weekend.
George Leopold's "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" rescues its subject's reputation by presenting his life and career in full. The book is fascinating and haunting, and its impressive research exonerates Grissom from the charge of being a hapless astronaut who, in his peers' parlance, "screwed the pooch."

...the chapters chronicling the flights of Liberty Bell 7 and Gemini 3 are among the book's best. They are thrillingly told, taking readers up into the cosmos with Grissom, conveying the sense of wonder and danger that accompanied these early voyages. But they then give way to the book's depressing conclusion.


Posts: 2191
Registered: Aug 2001

posted 07-21-2016 04:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Wehaveliftoff   Click Here to Email Wehaveliftoff     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've already put my hold on it. Sounds great.

Peter S

Posts: 101
From: Toronto, Ontario , Canada
Registered: Jan 2006

posted 07-24-2016 08:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter S   Click Here to Email Peter S     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just picked up my copy at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy center on Friday. Cannot wait to get stuck in!


Posts: 809
From: Cortlandt Manor, NY
Registered: May 2000

posted 08-23-2016 10:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for WAWalsh   Click Here to Email WAWalsh     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nearing the end of the book, so thought I would post.

The book is worth the purchase and belongs on the shelf. The author has provided some interesting insights into a possible cause for the blown hatch on Liberty Bell 7 and seems to have spent a fair amount of time attempting to mine out information on the one Mercury astronaut for whom, I suspect, there is the least amount of information.

That said, the book is in desperate need of a strong editor. There are points where the chronology of the information within a chapter is all over the board with odd jumps even taking place within paragraphs. The author also recycles some information and points repeatedly. The frequency of these issues is distracting, as is the writer's desire at times to dip into conjecture or editorializing (e.g., the facts are sufficient for the reader to reach his or her own conclusion, doubt anyone needs the closing thoughts on what might have happened with his marriage during the chapter on the Mercury 7's extracurricular activities). For what I am hoping to read, the book would have also benefitted from added detail on Grissom's test pilot efforts (as done in Hansen's book on Armstrong) and a bit more on Grissom's role in the design of the Gemini capsule.

In fairness, the author was attacking a premise that Grissom was a hard luck or lost astronaut. I doubt many here hold that view.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 39258
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 11-08-2016 04:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Eric Berger writes about "Calculated Risk" in connection with interviewing Bob Thompson, the head of NASA's recovery options for the Mercury program, for Ars Technica.
From these measured accounts, Grissom emerges as a quick-thinking hero. He reacted decisively in an uncertain situation when otherwise this mission would have ended in death. Such an accident early in NASA's space program could have given President Kennedy pause over the country's nascent Moon-landing ambitions at a time when the US lagged badly behind the Soviet Union.

More than half a century later, Grissom's name has faded from memory. Shepard has the honor of the first US spaceflight, John Glenn made the first orbital flight, and Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon. Yet after an all-too-brief career that ended tragically in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire, Grissom deserves recognition not as an unlucky footnote but as a genuine hero. And for today's astronauts, Grissom's near-death experience in the Atlantic Ocean has renewed importance, offering a sobering reminder of the sea's peril as NASA plans to return its Orion capsule from deep space again by way of the ocean.

"Water is a great place to land in, but it's a hell of a place post-landing," Thompson told Ars. "Let me tell you, you can hurt yourself in the ocean."


Posts: 813
From: Washington, IL
Registered: Jan 2006

posted 11-26-2016 12:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for astro-nut   Click Here to Email astro-nut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Enjoyed reading this book about Gus Grissom. Overall a very good book about Gus!


Posts: 655
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 05-24-2017 11:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just finished reading my library network's copy of this book. I thought it was a good book and mostly very well written.

I believe the author to put to much "blame" for the Apollo 1 fire on the pure O2 environment and not enough on the terrible hatch design but he did examine all the issues fairly well. I think Mr. Leopold captured the essence of Grissom as well as anybody could given that he has been gone 50 years, many of his contemporaries are also now gone, and nothing really in depth was written about him prior to his death.

The book did bring to light a few issues I was not completely aware of including the apparently large schism within the surviving Grissom family. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the life of Gus Grissom.


Posts: 5877
From: Geneva, Switzerland
Registered: May 2006

posted 02-17-2018 05:00 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A revised and expanded edition announced for September 15, 2018.


Posts: 127
From: USA
Registered: Sep 2003

posted 04-21-2018 06:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nelyubov   Click Here to Email nelyubov     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The paperback edition is available on But the new edition which is supposed to be revised and expanded has less pages than the original hardback. Can anyone explain how it can be expanded with less pages?

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