Tuesday, January 31, 2017

50 years ago: The Apollo 1 fire, and an astronaut's last words

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1

Apollo 1, the first U.S. manned space mission with a three-man crew, was scheduled to lift off from Cape Kennedy, Florida on February 21, 1967. On the afternoon of January 27, the crew--Gus Grissom (Commander); Ed White (Senior Pilot); and Roger Chaffee (Pilot)--entered the spacecraft for one of the mission's final pre-launch tests. The test was not going well, with communications between the spacecraft and ground crews being just one of the problems. The test was about 10 minutes away from completion when a fire suddenly swept through the spacecraft. The crew began procedures to get out, but were killed in seconds; read the details here and here.

The audio recording of the last half hour of Apollo 1 has been posted on YouTube:



I began following the space program a couple of years after the Apollo 1 fire, and the astronauts, including those whose feats I was too young to remember, were my heroes. Gus Grissom was one of the original seven astronauts, and the second American to fly in space. Chief of the Astronaut Office Deke Slayton, who was in charge of flight assignments said in his autobiography Deke! (1994) that if Mr. Grissom hadn't perished in the fire, he may well have been the first man to walk on the moon. I still have great respect for Mr. Grissom's accomplishments, but it grieves me that his last words included the use of the name of Jesus Christ--as an obscenity (at about 28:56 in the video above). Less than a minute later, Gus Grissom and his crewmates were dead.



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