Remembering the Apollo 1 tragedy

29 Jan

On Jan 27, 1967 a Saturn I-B rocket with the Apollo I command module was wheeled on to launch compound 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Once the rocket was in place the three astronauts United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonels Virgil Grissom & Edward White along with United States Navy Lieutenant Commander Roger Chafee rode the lift up to the command capsule to do a pre-flight check before their mission the following month. It was 6:30 pm EST that the go ahead was given to start the pre-flight check and then tragedy struck.

One of the astronauts, it is not clear which one, reported a fire. After the shouts of fire there were sounds of movement coming over the astronauts’ microphones. It was evident the astronauts were trying to get out of the capsule to escape the fire. After hearing the sounds the people in command center went to try to rescue the three astronauts. Unfortunately, neither the astronauts or the would be rescuers were able to get the hatch open. The three astronauts ended up dying in that fire. That day NASA and the world lost three heroic men.

Virgil “Gus” Grissom enlisted in the United States Army Air Corp in 1943. It was not until after he graduated from High School the following year that he was finally inducted into the Army. At the end of WWII he was awarded an honorable discharge and went back to civilian life. He then went to Purdue University where he graduated with a mechanical engineering degree. After graduation he re-enlisted in the United States Air Force where he became a pilot during the Korean War. After his outstanding service during the war he was stationed at Bryan AFB in Texas where he became a flight instructor and test pilot. A few years later he received an invitation from NASA where he became one of the “Mercury Seven”. At NASA he went on to be the only astronaut to fly missions in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.

Edward “Ed” Higgins White graduated from West Point with a bachelor of science degree in 1952. He then went on to flight school where he was awarded the ran of second Lieutenant before being deployed to West Germany. Once he returned to the States, Mr. White attended the University of Michigan where he earned his masters of science in aeronautical engineering in 1959. Mr. White went on to become a test pilot where he put in over 3,000 hours. After being a test pilot he was part of the second group of astronauts at NASA. He flew Gemini 4 and was backup on Gemini 7.

Roger Bruce Chaffee started out his career going through the ROTC route where in 1953 he enrolled in the Illinois Institute of Technology. He transferred from there to Purdue where he earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1957. That same year Mr. Chaffee was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy. In 1959 Mr. Chaffee earned his Naval pilot’s wings and was assigned to photo reconnaissance squadrons as a Lieutenant Commander. During his time in photo reconnaissance it was rumored that Mr. Chaffee was one of the pilots that flew the secretive U2 spy plane. In January of 1963 Mr. Chaffee became one of the 3rd group of astronauts and Apollo 1 would have been his first trip into space.

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