CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — The wind blew briskly off of the Atlantic Ocean as the 47th memorial service for the crew of Apollo 1 got underway at Launch Complex 34A, or “LC-34A.” The annual remembrance is held every year by members of the Grissom family, one of the three astronauts that were lost during the early days of the Apollo era.
On Jan. 27, 1967, veteran Mercury and Gemini astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee entered into their Apollo Block 1 spacecraft atop a Saturn IB to begin their “plugs out” test. During the test one thing became clear: this version of the Apollo capsule was not ready to fly. Communications issues repeatedly cropped up with some of what the crew was saying being completely unintelligible. One word came forth that was very intelligible, however—“Fire.”
Technical issues assured that the crew never stood a chance. All hands were lost. It was the first time that NASA and the nation had encountered such a tragedy. Sadly, it would not be the last.
This evening at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, no crews bustle about LC-34A; it has long since been “Abandoned in Place.” No, the only people here tonight were the 75 or so guests who had arrived to pay their respects.
Guests included those that are directly related to crew members lost. Betty Grissom, the widow of Gus Grissom, as well as his grandson, Cody Grissom, were in attendance. Cody lit candles and remarks were made by the commander of the 45th Space Wing, Brigadier General Anthony Cotton. The Navy was also in attendance with Commander Michael La Prade, Naval Ordnance Test Unit, Executive Officer for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, present. Apollo 1 was a NASA disaster, and the head of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center came to offer his thoughts on the occasion.
“We are human and will make mistakes, but it is how we respond to these mistakes that matters. The shuttle that I flew on was made safer by what we learned from the Apollo One accident,” Bob Cabana, a four-time spaceflight veteran himself said addressing the family. “I cannot imagine the sadness you had to endure because of this event.”
The service ended with a moment of silence and the traditional playing of “Taps” by ETI Kyle Martin, U.S. Navy.
How many die in car accidents each year? How many lost in Afganistan? How many in shootings? Seems like these guys knew the risks and their families did as well. Ok to remember people who died doing what they knowingly did but is this remembrance about sorry or is it about joy? Is it a celebration of human courage or is it simply wallowing in the past, unable to move on?
I don’t know. I hope it’s about courage and spirit and defying the odds. If it’s not, then these guys would be, I think, disappointed.