- January 27, 1967, Cape Kennedy, Florida ... It was a seemingly typical Friday at Cape Kennedy. The mild winter winds blew softly and carried a whisper of the activity on Pad 34.
Cradled in its gantry was a powerful Saturn I-B rocket, unfueled, but waiting... waiting for the countdown of a simulated launch. In just eighteen days this mighty giant was expected to soar from its pad into the mysterious realms of outer space; the first manned flight of the project known as Apollo. Eventual destination -- the moon.
Perched atop the twenty-two storey rocket was a comparatively small white capsule bearing a colorful painting of the American flag, the words "United States" stencilled clearly just above it.
Inside the capsule, preparing for the simulated liftoff were three men, the prime crew of Apollo 204, courageous and proud in their roles.
The test began at 1:00 p.m. EST with the entry of the silvery suited spacemen into the cabin. At 2:50 p.m., the hatch was closed and sealed, and the cabin filled with oxygen. The men relaxed in individual contour couches and they, too, waited.
The test had already been delayed due to a malfunction of the oxygen and communications systems, and outside the command module, 220 feet off the ground, technicians doggedly worked, monitoring test equipment and making last minute adjustments.
Adjacent to the launch pad, 1,000 feet away, was the blockhouse where other technicians and NASA officials were gathered to view the happenings over a closed circuit telemetry monitor.
"T minus 10," a voice boomed out from the concrete structure, indicating the wait was nearly over and the simulated takeoff close at hand.
Now, 6: 31 p.m. EST -- a brilliant white flash!
"Fire in the spacecraft!" cried a voice from within the capsule.
The television monitors and all communications went dead.
Dense smoke poured from the hatch as workmen rushed up the 25O-foot steel gantry in a high speed elevator in an attempt to save the astronauts. Twenty-seven men were overcome by the bitter black smoke and intense heat, and it took nearly five endless minutes to pry open the charred metal door of the cabin ... Too late...
Americans were stunned by the loss of their heroes, Virgil Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger B. Chaffee. The nation, and indeed the world, mourned.
Since that tragedy on the launch pad, countless pages have been written eulogizing the three comrades and speculating as to the cause of the fire. A board comprised of highly qualified experts, after weeks of intensive investigation, revealed that a single electrical spark is thought to have touched off the burst of flame. The exact cause may never be known.
Roger, Gus Grissom, and Ed White knew and accepted the dangers of their chosen life. They were pioneers of space, and the universe was waiting to be conquered.
"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 it."
These words were spoken by Lieut. Commander Grissom, but their meaning was shared by each of the astronauts. [4, 5]
- (Medical):Roger died in an accidental fire aboard the Apollo 1 space capsule.