Review by Joe Copalman.
In his survey of Astronaut Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom’s life, George Leopold seeks to clear the ambiguity surrounding the legacy of America’s second man in space. He discovers a man whose drive and sense of ‘don’t quit’ dwarfed any innate talents he also possessed.
The loss at sea of Grissom’s Mercury capsule, ‘Liberty Bell 7’, is dealt with at great length – some might argue too great. Leopold’s motives for the somewhat repetitive passages on the ‘hatch blowing’ incident are clear. He wants the reader to be unambiguously certain that Grissom did not panic, nor did he prematurely blow the hatch. He worked hard for everything in life, including command of the first Gemini and Apollo missions, something NASA never would have given to a panicky hatch-blower.
Leopold steers clear of uncritical hero worship, revealing a distant father, an unfaithful husband, and a man as vulnerable as any other astronaut to the ‘Go Fever’ that ultimately killed him. The Apollo 1 fire is covered in significant detail, and while the book is an easy read, it’s in this section that it becomes difficult because you know the ending. By that point, the reader is so invested in Grissom that it’s almost involuntary to hope for a different ending.
Calculated Risk fills what has been the largest gap in the field of astronaut biographies, and it does so credibly. While Leopold is clearly impressed by his subject, he remains distant enough to give a warts-and-all account of Grissom’s life, accomplishments, and untimely death.