Friday, January 27, 2017


JFK+50:  Volume 7, No. 2202


Cape Kennedy Air Force Launch Complex 34 (JFK+50) President John F. Kennedy set the goal in 1961 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  Three astronauts died fifty years ago today in an effort to help meet that goal.

At 6:31 p.m. Eastern time, a sudden fire blazed through the Command Service Module of Apollo I as a pre-launch test was underway.  Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee were scheduled for launch on February 21, 1967. 

A later investigation showed that an electrical spark in the CSM ignited nylon material and the pure oxygen atmosphere.  A door hatch, designed to open inward, could not be activated due to the intense cabin pressure.*

The astronauts themselves had reservations about the safety of their spacecraft.  They posed for a photograph (see below) in a praying position with the caption...

"It isn't that we don't trust you, Joe, but this time we've decided to go over your head."

Joe was Apollo spacecraft program manager, Joseph F. Shea.**

Apollo I was to have been the first manned flight of the Command/Service Module, but the fire and death of the astronauts put a stop to manned space flights for more than a year and a half.

Hanneke Weitering of writes that NASA's Kennedy Space Center "will unveil a new Apollo I tribute in its visitor center complex at the Apollo/Saturn V Center and informs us that a wreath-laying ceremony will be conducted at the graves of Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee in Arlington National Cemetery on January 31, 2017. 

*Corrections were made as a result of the tragedy.  The highly flammable pure oxygen was replaced by a mix of oxygen & nitrogen and flame retardant materials were required.

**Joseph Francis Shea (1925-1999) was born in New York & earned his PhD at the University of Michigan in 1955.  JFS was hired by NASA in 1961.  As a result of the Apollo I fire & subsequent investigation he left NASA & later was employed by Raytehon of Lexington, MA.  JFS also was a professor at MIT.


"Apollo Tragedy Taught NASA Some Very Important Lessons," by Hanneke Weitering,, NBC NEWS,

Ed White, Gus Grissom & Roger Chaffee
April 1, 1966
NASA Photo

Apollo I Fire Damage
January 28, 1967
NASA Photo