- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

MADISON, Conn. (AP) — A 15-year-old girl with a Web site, a summer of free time and an astronaut for a hero is trying to solve a three-year-old dispute over one of NASA’s earliest spacesuits.

Family members of pioneering astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom have been trying to get NASA to give them his 1961 Mercury spacesuit. NASA says the suit is government property and an artifact that should be kept at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Florida.

Enter Amanda Meyer, space enthusiast and co-captain of her school’s debate team. She thinks she has a compromise and, after starting an Internet petition drive, has spent the summer writing and calling NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, Congress and anyone else of whom she can think.

Amanda says the government doesn’t have to give up its claim to the suit but should loan it to the Gus Grissom Memorial, located in his hometown of Mitchell, Ind.

“It just seems fair,” she said. “It should be in his museum because that’s where he would want it.”

She is to meet this week with a representative of the government contractor that operates the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Relations between Mr. Grissom’s wife, Betty, and NASA have been uneasy since he and two other Apollo 1 astronauts died in a 1967 command-module fire during a training exercise.

Mr. Grissom wore the suit that is in dispute during his Mercury mission, in which his spacecraft landed in the ocean but sank after a hatch prematurely blew.

After the mission, Mr. Grissom took the suit home and never returned it, NASA said. Family members have said he rescued it from the trash, which NASA denies. In 1989, Mrs. Grissom lent the suit to the privately run Astronaut Hall of Fame. But in 2003, after the government took over the museum, she and her son Scott tried to get it back.

NASA agreed to return 15 items, including a flight log and his commemorative medals, but not the suit, saying it was government property and belonged in the Smithsonian.

Amanda heard about the dispute in February, after she sent Scott Grissom a copy of a school essay she wrote about his father. As the school year waned, she pledged to spend the summer on the issue.

Through her Web site and petition drives outside a grocery store, she has collected about 2,000 signatures, she said.

“She’s persistent,” said NASA spokesman George H. Diller.

Her petition has become fodder for space-related Web logs and message boards. Some admire her drive; others say she is being used in the Grissoms’ dispute with NASA.

“Amanda Meyer is a nice young lady, and as well-meaning as she is, she’s a third party in this,” said Roger Launius, chairman of space history at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The spacesuit’s fate will be reconsidered at the end of the year, NASA said. The agency plans to ask the Smithsonian to keep the suit in Florida.

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