Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Memoriam

Today is the 44th anniversary of the deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The three were killed when the Apollo 1 command module caught fire during pre-launch activities.

Grissom had had a close call earlier when the hatch on the Liberty Bell 7 blew after splashdown, causing his spacesuit to fill with water and nearly drowning him. In memory of the event, Grissom named the Gemini 3 capsule the "Molly Brown," after the unsinkable survivor of the Titanic. It was a name that horrified NASA and led to a rule against the naming of future spacecraft.

Ed White was the first American astronaut to walk in space. He has a star (Iota Ursae Majoris) named after him. The star is nicknamed Dnoces ("second" spelled backwards) for him -- Edward Higgins White II. White Hill, part of the Apollo Hills on Mars, is also named for him.

Roger Chaffee was the communications officer on the Apollo 1 flight. He reported the fatal fire and continued to communicate with ground control until smoke filled the cabin, killing the astronauts. Like White, Chaffee has a star named after him -- Gamma Velorum, which is nicknamed Regor (again, his name backwards).

The three knew the risks. Grissom said, "If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

Photos are of the crew and one of the columns on the Apollo 1 launchpad at Canaveral. The words, "Abandon in Place," are stenciled on it.

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