'Worst Day': Remembering the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 1 (Part 2)

The Apollo 1 prime crew consisted of (from right) Commander Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Photo Credit: NASA

The Apollo 1 prime crew consisted of (from right) Commander Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Photo Credit: NASA

In the windowless blockhouse at Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, Deke Slayton heard the call of “rookie” astronaut Roger Chaffee and glanced over to a monitor which showed the hatch window of the Apollo 1 Command Module (CM). It was Friday, 27 January 1967, and Chaffee and his crewmates—Command Pilot Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Senior Pilot Ed White—were sealed inside the spacecraft, atop its unfueled Saturn IB booster, performing a “plugs-out” systems test. As outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, the test had been repeatedly postponed through the afternoon, due to niggling technical glitches.

Now, as the normally dark hatch window turned white, Slayton realized that something drastically abnormal was occurring. At 6:31 p.m., Chaffee called “Fire” and, within seconds, further frantic calls emanated from Apollo 1. “We’ve got a fire in the cockpit,” Chaffee yelled. “Let’s get out. We’re burning up!” Finally, there was a blood-curdling shriek.

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PHOTOS: Air Force SBIRS GEO 3 Soars on Shoulders of Atlas

The third Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Orbit (SBIRS GEO-3) spacecraft,— a critical war fighting satellite and one of the most expensive of all U.S. military space assets - is undergoing early checkout in orbit following its successful launch from Cape Canaveral last night, Jan. 20, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

The third Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Orbit (SBIRS GEO-3) spacecraft—a critical war fighting satellite and one of the most expensive of all U.S. military space assets—is undergoing early checkout in orbit following its successful launch from Cape Canaveral last night, Jan. 20, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Photo Credit: John Kraus / AmericaSpace

The third Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Orbit (SBIRS GEO-3) spacecraft—a critical war fighting satellite and one of the most expensive of all U.S. military space assets—is currently undergoing early checkout in orbit following its successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station last night, Jan. 20, on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

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'Fire in the Cockpit': Remembering the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 1 (Part 1)

The Apollo 1 crew consisted of (from left) Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Photo Credit: NASA

The Apollo 1 crew consisted of (from left) Command Pilot Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Photo Credit: NASA

Five decades ago, this month, one of the worst tragedies in the history of U.S. space exploration unfolded with horrifying suddenness on Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy in Florida. “The Fire”—as it became infamously known—tore through the Command Module (CM) of the Apollo 1 spacecraft, during a “plugs-out” ground systems test on the evening of 27 January 1967, killing astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. It was a disaster which almost halted in its tracks President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade and, even today, the loss of Grissom and his crew leaves a dark stain on the glory of the Apollo program.

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PHOTOS: Final SLS Work Platform Installed in KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building

High up in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an overhead crane has lowered the final work platform, A north, into place for installation in High Bay 3. The platform is being installed and secured on its rail beam high up on the north wall of the high bay. In view below the A platforms are the nine previously installed platform levels. The installation of the final topmost level completes the 10 levels of work platforms, 20 platform halves altogether, that will surround NASA's Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft and allow access during processing for missions, including the first uncrewed flight test of Orion atop the SLS rocket in 2018. The A-level platforms will provide access to the Orion spacecraft's Launch Abort System for Orion lifting sling removal and installation of the closeout panels. The Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, with support from the center's Engineering Directorate, is overseeing upgrades and modifications to the VAB, including installation of the new work platforms. Photo Credit: NASA / Frank Michaux

Staring up High Bay 3 in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the 10 work platform levels that will surround NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to allow access during processing for missions. Photo Credit: NASA / Frank Michaux

The final of 10 giant steel work platforms to support launch preparations of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule is now installed in Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) iconic 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), marking a significant milestone in the ongoing evolution of NASA’s spaceport and the historic facility previously used to process all 135 space shuttle launches and the Saturn-V rockets which sent men to the Moon during the Apollo program.

All space shuttle work platforms in High Bay 3 were removed to make way for a new SLS platform system in 2013, and work in High Bay 3 has been underway ever since to receive the 20 platform halves which make up all 10 SLS platforms. The platforms are critical in giving engineers access to the 322-foot-tall rocket and spacecraft prior to being rolled out to Launch Complex 39B a few miles away, where crews will launch on missions to the Moon and beyond over the coming years.

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Russian Techs in ASOC to Monitor SBIRS GEO 3 Launch Jan. 19

A ULA Atlas V rocket launching SBIRS GEO 2. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

A ULA Atlas V rocket launching SBIRS GEO 2. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

As U.S./Russian intelligence controversies swirl between the two countries, a team of Russian rocket technicians will be at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 19 to monitor real-time engine data from a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket as it lofts the third U.S. Air Force Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO-3) missile warning satellite into orbit.

This new $1.2 billion, 2-ton spacecraft, intended for hemispheric monitoring, is scheduled for liftoff at 7:46 p.m. EDT at the start of a 40-minute launch window.

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Gene Cernan, Last Apollo Moonwalker, Dies Aged 82

Gene Cernan salutes the U.S. flag at Taurus-Littrow in December 1972. Photo Credit: NASA

Gene Cernan salutes the U.S. flag at Taurus-Littrow in December 1972. Photo Credit: NASA

On 16 January, a day of reflection—the 14th anniversary of the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia on her final mission—the world lost a shining light in the early annals of human space exploration. Retired Navy Capt. Gene Cernan, veteran of three space missions and the last person to have set foot on the surface of the Moon, has died, aged 82. By cruel coincidence, Cernan passed at exactly the same age as the world’s first Moonwalker, Neil Armstrong. His death leaves just half of the 12 Apollo Moonwalkers still with us, and, when counting Command Module Pilots (CMPs), only 14 humans remain alive to tell tales of traveling beyond low-Earth orbit, across the vast gulf of cislunar space and to our closest celestial neighbor. The news of Cernan’s death broke on Monday afternoon, and NASA has paid touching tribute to an astronaut who “left his mark on the history of exploration.”

Between July 1969 and December 1972, 12 humans left their bootprints in the dusty lunar regolith. Since then, six have passed away—from Apollo 15’s Jim Irwin in August 1991 to Neil Armstrong in August 2012 and, most recently, Apollo 14’s Ed Mitchell, early last year—and only Buzz Aldrin, Al Bean, Dave Scott, John Young, Charlie Duke, and Jack Schmitt remain.

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'In A Heartbeat': 25 Years Since STS-42 Inaugurated International Space Year (Part 2)

Discovery spears for orbit on 22 January 1992, after an hour-long delay, caused by a fuel cell anomaly. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

Discovery spears for orbit on 22 January 1992, after an hour-long delay, caused by a fuel cell anomaly. Photo Credit: NASA, via Joachim Becker/SpaceFacts.de

A quarter-century ago, this month, a space mission rooted in disappointment and tragedy finally took flight. Aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, astronauts from the United States, Germany, and Canada embarked on a week-long voyage whose objectives featured the combined efforts of more than 200 scientists, spread across a half-dozen sovereign nations. The first International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-1) was intended to serve as an early precursor for Space Station operations. However, as outlined in yesterday’s AmericaSpace history article, it suffered lengthy delays, caused by the Challenger disaster and later technical troubles which afflicted the shuttle fleet, as well as the untimely death—just months before liftoff—of one of its crew members.

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A Very Alien Moon: NASA Celebrates 12th Anniversary of Huygens Landing on Titan

Mosaic of images taken by Huygens during its descent to the surface of Titan, from an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Mosaic of images taken by Huygens during its descent to the surface of Titan, from an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers). Riverbeds formed by liquid methane can be seen near the center of the image. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Twelve years ago today, one of the most incredible space missions ever was accomplished: the first landing of a probe on an alien moon. And this wasn’t just any moon, but Titan, largest moon of Saturn and one of the most fascinating worlds in the Solar System. Although much colder than Earth, Titan mimics some of the processes found here such as its hydrological cycle, but with liquid methane/ethane instead of water. Titan had been observed extensively by telescopes and from Saturnian orbit, but this was the first time the surface could be seen up close.

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SpaceX Successfully Launches First of Seven Iridium NEXT Multi-Satellite Missions

As well as returning SpaceX to flight, today's mission marked the first successful drone ship landing for Just Read the Instructions. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

As well as returning SpaceX to flight, today’s mission marked the first successful drone ship landing for Just Read the Instructions. Photo Credit: SpaceX/Twitter

SpaceX has returned to flight operations, with the successful delivery of ten Iridium NEXT global mobile telecommunications satellites to low-Earth orbit. Launch of the Upgraded Falcon 9 took place during an “instantaneous” window at 9:54 a.m. PST Saturday, 14 January, and marked its third flight from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Within eight minutes, the first stage completed a smooth touchdown on the Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS), nicknamed “Just Read the Instructions”, which was situated off the coast of San Diego. This marked the first time that the “West Coast” drone ship had hosted a fully successful landing of a Falcon 9 first stage. Aside from the visible triumph of returning to flight and bagging another ASDS landing, however, SpaceX has successfully fulfilled the first part of a seven-year-old contract which will see it place 70 Iridium NEXT satellites into orbit by spring 2018.

“Team Vandenberg takes pride in supporting the launch of Iridium NEXT and SpaceX’s return to flight,” said Col. J. Christopher Moss, 30th Space Wing Commander at Vandenberg and the Launch Decision Authority for the Iridium NEXT mission. “Today’s launch is a testament to the professionalism and commitment to mission assurance, public safety, and mission success on the Western Range.”

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'Traumatic Decisions': 25 Years Since STS-42 Inaugurated International Space Year (Part 1)

The tunnel adaptor for the IML-1 Spacelab module is prepared for installation in the Orbiter Processing Facility. STS-42 was the first human launch of International Space Year 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

The tunnel adaptor for the IML-1 Spacelab module is prepared for installation in the Orbiter Processing Facility. STS-42 was the first human launch of International Space Year 1992. Photo Credit: NASA

Twenty-five years have now passed since the International Space Year (ISY) in 1992, during which 29 national space agencies and 10 international organizations participated in various activities to promote the exploration of both the cosmos and our home planet, Earth. And although a pair of Russian cosmonauts—Aleksandr Volkov and Sergei Krikalev—were aboard the Mir space station on New Year’s Day, the first piloted launch of 1992 was a major venture in life and microgravity sciences, involving over 200 scientists and the respective space agencies of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan. Laden with the first International Microgravity Laboratory (IML-1), Shuttle Discovery’s STS-42 mission had gone through several changes in crew composition and had been shadowed by disappointment and tragedy in equal measure.

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