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Astronaut Gus Grissom inside the Liberty Bell 7.
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Courtesy of NASA

It's Time to Clean the Liberty Bell!
News story originally written on 11/11/99

Scientists are currently cleaning one of the oldest and most fascinating spacecraft ever known. The Liberty Bell 7, flown by Astronaut Gus Grissom in 1961, was trapped on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean until this past summer. It was then that expert salvager Curt Newport brought the spacecraft up 15,000 feet to the surface. But the recovery was only the beginning. Now the Liberty Bell 7 is housed at the Cosmosphere in Kansas, where it will be cleaned and rebuilt for future generations.

Even after all these years, much of the spacecraft's contents remains intact. Papers, money, even a pencil, remained. Unfortunately, some of the metal making up the spacecraft has turned to dust. What remains is being cleaned, all 25,000 pieces! Scientists are using drills, grinders and even dental equipment to clean every part of the spacecraft, even the nuts and bolts. Every part was covered in grime and dirt that had built up for over 30 years. The restoration project is expected to take 6 months. However, anyone who visits the Cosmophere can watch as scientists restore the capsule.

The items found inside the Liberty Bell are even more interesting than the capsule itself. A checklist and pencil used by Grissom just before the ship sank was hidden safely inside a pouch. Old mercury dimes, which were supposed to be given to friends of the astronaut, were spread across the floor. Even the cap to the hatch which blew off the capsule and caused it to sink was found. Together, the pieces remaining will represent a glimpse of an age long gone.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA