This is a day I’ve been thinking about for many years now, as I rekindled my love of space flight and its history – The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, and event which nearly killed the Apollo program, but at the same time caused such improvements to the spacecraft that it may have done more than any other event to get the program back to where it should have been.
When I was a child, I was heavily interested in space, much as I am now (it’s funny how the things you love as a kid come back around.) I knew all the big names, Al Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong; the most famous ones. This was just before the internet really became a thing so the best I could learn from were TV documentaries, encyclopedias, and whatever books I could get at the school library.
I remember when I first found out about what is probably my favorite space program, Project Gemini, and being amazed at seeing pictures from the Gemini 7 and 6 rendezvous just how the vehicle looked in orbit! This was about the time Apollo 13 was going in to theaters. I was 10, a little young for the film but I damn loved space and of course my mom took me to go see it.
That was the first I recall hearing about the fire. Apollo 1. I had never heard about it, at least in any detail that I could recall, and I was surprised. I grew up knowing about Challenger (this was, of course, many years before the loss of Columbia), which happened when I was just shy of 1 year old. Apollo 1 was, naturally, before my time.
As a child I wondered why I had never known about this event. As I got older, I learned more about Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. These men were the crew of what was supposed to be the first manned Apollo mission; the beginning of our actual reach towards the Moon. If anyone embodied the trailblazing spirit of the early days of the space program, and most importantly the Apollo program, if was them, and their loss is a tragedy that some of us still feel today, even if we weren’t around for that tragic day 50 years ago.
It’s nice that now, 50 years later, Apollo 1 has a proper memorial beyond the remains of Launch Complex 34. A tribute to the crew, which includes the hatch from the Apollo 1 spacecraft, opened today at Kennedy Space Center, complementing the previously built tributes to the Challenger and Columbia crews. Some have already expressed objections but I find what I have seen fitting enough. I’ve always said something from the spacecraft needs to be put on display, and a proper modern memorial for the crew was well overdue.
It’s hard to say much more about the event without going into details about it, or saying what I’ve already said before. I’ve written many previous articles about the fire which you may find interesting to read. Of course, the Wikipedia article on Apollo 1 is useful to educate yourself, if you don’t already know the story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1
I’m sure there are more articles I’ve written that are buried in the archive, but this should do you for now. More to come later tonight, and tomorrow.
Ad Astra Per Aspera