1961-07-21 USA Mercury MR-4

Photo: John Glenn (backup pilot) and Gus Grissom posing with a boiler plate replica of the Mercury spacecraft.
Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) was the second United States human spaceflight, piloted by the astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom on July 21, 1961. The spaceflight lasted 15 minutes 30 seconds, reached an altitude of 190.4 km, and it flew 486.2 km downrange, landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo: Gus Grissom in mock space capsule during simulated space flight training.
Photo: Gus Grissom suited up for the launch of his flight on July 19, 1961, but was postponed due to bad weather condition.
Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7) Signed Launch Cover. A Space Craft printed cachet cover with a 4¢ stamp affixed, bearing a Patrick Air Force Base cancellation dated July 21, 1961, the launch day of MR-4 mission. It features a "Man-in-Space/ Mission of Project Mercury" illustrated cachet. Signed by Virgil I. Grissom and Hermann Oberth.
Photo: The space flight of MR-4, piloted by Gus Grissom on July 21, 1961.
The flight went as expected until just after splashdown, when the hatch cover, designed to release explosively in the event of an emergency, accidentally blew. Grissom was at risk of drowning, but he was recovered safely via a U.S. Navy helicopter and flown to carrier Randolph. The spacecraft sank into the Atlantic and it was not recovered until 1999.

Photo: Gus Grissom (right) floats in water waiting to be rescued, while a recovery helicopter tugs the sinking Mercury spacecraft.
Photo: Gus Grissom aboard USS Randolph.
Postal cover with a USS Randolph, July 21, 1961 postmark, the recovery ship and date of the Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft, signed neatly in black ballpoint by Virgil I. Grissom. This cover was previously owned by aerospace memorabilia specialist Ken Havekotte. Ken included a note that describes this cover:
"MR-4/Liberty Bell 7 Prime Recovery Ship Cover. One of the rarest (perhaps "the rarest") U.S. manned spaceflight postal cover! Only an extremely limited number of MR-4 USS Randolph splashdown-recovery ship covers from the suborbital manned Mercury spaceflight on July 21, 1961, making Gus Grissom the 2nd American in space. What makes the prime ship cover more amazing and valuable is Grissom's full signature on the cover itself! It may very well be the only known (that I know of) splashdown/PRS cover from MR-4 signed by the pilot-astronaut himself--"Virgil I. Grissom" in ball point pen! THIS IS NOT A RISE FAKE cover production. It came from the early space cover collection of Dr. E. V. Smith (though the cover has a type-written address of another space collector on it). I had purchased the cover from Dr. Smith decades ago along with a bunch of his other classic early space cover issues." - RRAuction
This cover has an autopen signature of "Gus Grissom", it has a postmark variation with "RANDOLPH (CVS-15)" at the bottom that is not often seen.
Photo: "A marine helicopter hovered above the waters of the Atlantic Friday in an attempt to retrieve the Mercury space capsule that carried air force Capt. Virgil I. Grissom 303 miles out into the ocean. After the capsule plummeted into the water the escape hatch blew off prematurely for some unexplained reason. Grissom clambered out as the capsule filled with water. This copter tried to lift it but the added weight of the water was too heavy a load. The cable was cut and the capsule sank in nearly three miles of water, carrying with it valuable films and records of Grissom's flight. AP Wirephoto."
Photo: Recovery helicopter dips into the water in an attempt to retrieve the sinking Mercury spacecraft.