Before the Fire

Veteran space reporter Jay Barbree recalls Apollo’s darkest day.

Jay Barbree (left)and Gus Grissom around the time of the astronaut's Gemini 3 flight in 1965. (Courtesy Jay Barbree)

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“The White House,” he said soberly. “The White House is pushing.”


“Damn right,” Gus nodded. “It’s all about the reelection. LBJ would like to see us on the moon before the polls open in ‘68.”

“He needs the help because of Vietnam?”

“You got it,” Gus said, pulling his chair even closer. “Johnson gave Apollo to his buddies instead of the guys with the experience and now he’s damn well wanting miracles that ain’t there. They’re rushing production and we need time, Jay, we need time.”

“I’ll get on it, Gus,” I promise. “I’ll get on it.”

He nodded a thank you and moved his chair back, still troubled. Trish finished her set and joined us, and we ended the conversation with a handshake.

Gus enjoyed Trish’s company, her singing, but despite what some thought, there was nothing going on between the two except friendship. Trish and I were good friends, as we still are today, and I knew she was involved with an astronaut, but he wasn’t Gus Grissom. There were lots of stories in those days about the astronauts and women, but in most part they were just that: stories.

In one case, a sleazy private investigator had offered NBC an audiotape for a price. It supposedly was a recording of an astronaut in bed with a woman other than his wife. I asked him to leave the tape with me, telling him I needed to play it for my boss in New York. No sooner than he’d left the NBC bureau, I erased it, and called him with a “We’ll pass.”

Later, I learned he didn’t have a copy and my bosses, Russ Tornabene and Jim Holten, joined me for a good laugh.

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