Remembering Apollo 1 and Challenger
The crew of Apollo 1 at the Kennedy Space Center near their launch pad. Courtesy NASA.
Each year in the last week of January we mark the loss of 10 NASA astronauts to tragedy. One accident occurred on land on January 27, 1967, when a training capsule was engulfed in fire and killed three astronauts. The other happened on January 28, 1986 on the edge of space when space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing seven astronauts.
On January 27, 1967, Apollo astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were taking part in a pre-launch simulation when their capsule caught on fire. They were killed in the fire, and it marked the first major space tragedy on record. Other astronauts had died in flight accidents or auto mishaps, but these guys were the first to die in training. I was only a child then, but already caught up in the fever of space interest, so it was quite a shock to me that these “space gods” could die on the ground. I’d already read some science fiction where death in space was a story element, but still — this was different, and it left a mark.