Friday, January 27, 2012

In Memoriam: Apollo 1

Forty-five years ago today, America experienced its first loss of pioneers of the high frontier:
January 27, 1967: A launch pad fire during Apollo program tests at Cape Canaveral, Florida, kills astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chafee. An investigation indicated that a faulty electrical wire inside the Apollo 1 command module was the probable cause of the fire. The astronauts, the first Americans to die in a spacecraft, had been participating in a simulation of the Apollo 1 launch scheduled for the next month.
One scene from the movie Apollo 13 that sticks in my mind: early in the film, Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) is explaining to his son what went wrong with Apollo 1.  Among many issues, those on scene were unable to open the door in time to assist the ill-fated astronauts.

Later in the movie, when the family learns Lovell and crew have also experienced a malfunction en route to the moon, the son quietly asks: "was it the door?" 

In a tragic irony, the next loss to the astronaut corps - the Challenger explosion - occurred almost exactly 19 years to the day later (January 28, 1986).  Daring to do great things -- never easy for those who dare... or for those who love them.

Godspeed, Apollo 1, and the crews of Challenger and Columbia.

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