Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Memorial "Apollo 1"-January, 1967--Space Flight

As the last scheduled NASA Space Shuttle flight finishes up its mission, I was thinking back to the earliest space missions I could recall directly from my youth. Turns out the first mission I remembered was Apollo One, a mission which never got off the ground.

From Wikipedia: "Apollo 1 (also designated Apollo Saturn-204 and AS-204) was scheduled to be the first manned mission of the Apollo manned lunar landing program, with a target launch date of February 21, 1967. A cabin fire during a launch pad test on January 27 at Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral killed all three crew members: Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee; and destroyed the Command Module. The mission name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.

Immediately after the fire, NASA convened the Apollo 204 Accident Review Board to determine the cause of the fire. Although the ignition source was never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal design and construction flaws in the early Apollo Command Module. The manned phase of the project was delayed for twenty months while these problems were corrected."

The NASA Space program meant a lot to myself and my fellow school chums. In the late 1960's I was just becoming slowly aware of how fractured our country was over racial issues, a long-distance ground war in South-East Asia and new ideas of sexuality, humor, free speech, feminism, fashions and a whole thing called "the generation gap".

Even the length of a man's hair was a subject of anger and dissent!

It was a different time and there weren't a lot of real-life heroes for kids to admire. The astronauts of thee Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs at least provided us what other generations took for granted--adults in the larger society we could all look up to. With some other grade school colleagues, I remember playing "Astronauts in Space" after school in my parents' garage. I'm sure a lot of kids did.

We even had a couple "girl astronauts"from down the block, who would drop by for a voyage. Must have been the influence of Lt. Uhura from "Star Trek" that made it seem more natural to have a girl or two on the crew from time to time. We beat NASA to gender integration by at least a full decade! We also had a lot of innocent fun.

If a new actual space mission would launch it would heighten interest of course. And there were new space missions. Apollo 7 was launced as part of the testing of the lunar module. Apollo 8 actually orbited the moon (!) in December of 1968. I still remember hearing the astronauts on that flight speaking on Christmas Eve and then seeing actual footage of the earth taken from one-quarter million miles away. Humans seen the earth for the first time not as a giant sphere dominating a picture but as a distant blue planet of small size. It changed the way people thought about our planet. Not surprisingly I think it helped the ecology movement as well.

No, NASA wasn't perfect. There were no African-American or Hispanic astronauts, no women, just middle-aged white guys in crew cuts. And they probably wouldn't have let any of them wear long hair even if one of the astronauts wanted to.

And yes, there was a "space race" on with the Soviets. But consider that that race led to a joint Apollo-Soyuz mission a few years later--American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts meeting in a orbital space docking of spacecrafts in 1975. And we all have an international space station circling above us today.

These brave men, including Chuck Grissom--one of the original Mercury astronauts--were our heroes. And, apart from the sports stars in baseball, basketball and football, these guys and the other astronaut crews would have been worthy of hero status in any generation I think.

And so it's worth remembering those who volunteered eagerly to overcome whatever fears they might have had, and risk their lives for something that humans had been dreaming about long before anybody ever heard of the USSR or the USA.

When the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, it was a great moment. But without all those who came before them, including Grissom and White and Chafee, and all those who either designed unmanned rockets going back to the Chinese centuries before or flew in propeller craft when human flight was in its infancy , none of this magic blend of individual grit and scientific prowess would have happened.


  1. Where would we be without men and women of adventure. We who sit at home can live the adventures with them remaining safe, while they face the dangers for us. Long may they be remembered.

    Thanks Doug

  2. Cassandra, you just provided the perfect summation, encapsulating in a short paragraph exactly what I was grasping to express.

    'Long may they be remembered" indeed.


  3. True this; Doug.

    (My own memories extend to the first 'downrange' flights of Mercury; the loss of Grissom's capsule, and getting up at 5:00 in the morning Pacific time to see the pre-launch prep for Glenn's flight - my parents let me skip school that day, so I could watch it all. I did.

    Like so many others, I was glued at age fifteen to the set when Apollo 11 landed; later on I squinted at the TV to try and decipher what I was seeing from that landing-leg camera - then seeing Armstrong step off on the moon.

    Good memories; Doug....)

  4. Looking back, it was an amazing time to be alive, Will. I remember being glued to that now-impossibly passe old console television, watching Walter Cronkite and Wally Shara broadcast that first incredible moon landing.

    My brother was back from overseas in the Air Force and he and my parents and I all went into the backyard when the landing and the moonwalk was over for that day. We all looked up at the moon, told some jokes about moon-men and laughed at the sheer audacity of it all.

    Looking back it seems all the more improbable given how primative those lunar craft were in terms of computers and the like.

    Reading Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" and seeing the film made from that later I realized just how those early Mercury missions like John Glenn's were such nail-biters. When JFK said we were going to the moon and bringing a crew back before 1970 it must have seemed to many like a total folly. We could barely keep a man in orbit when he said that and it looked more likely we'd all see a Russian landing first.

    Great memories indeed. Thaks for sharing yours.

  5. Doug I will never forget seeing that in on a Black and White TV. I was a time within history where everything came to a halt and it was one which I still remember. These were great times in history and althought I don't have sound right now I still can recall it to this very day. Still to this day the thought of placing a man onto the moon and there there were those produced segments on the side when they didnt have great transmission but hey that was something which I shall never forget.

  6. I too see this as something so positive, Jack. I think it really was a moment when the world held its breath and it all came off so well. There were tragedies in space travel later with two Shuttle flights, but its sad to see "Atlantis" making its last voyage and thinking kids of today won't as many space missions to follow by television into orbit as they should.

    Thanks for sharing your memories Jack.

  7. Most welcome as I do believe it really was at that time and during that time the technology which it took - but as a kid you I never thought of that all I knew of was how two school rooms which had a divider throught the entire elementary school were as well as within the main auditorium were all with one television and our eyes were glued to these men on another planet. Fascinating it was Doug.

  8. And it still seems fascinating to me Jack. I wish other generations will have similar experiences and dreams to recall as we as nations in the developed community can lay aside wars and strive to do something in the cosmos to draw on the work that astronauts and cosmonauts achieved.

  9. Look at what whichamacallit of Virgin Corp is doing. Yet those times are embedded within the best of what comes. I always pondered in a good way on the stars and what all was out there and even still to this very day Doug. I recall my father being fascinated with Star Trek and I forget the name of the actor that had those glasses from which to see and now Doug it's come to be within technology of recent.

  10. That's true, we've seen science fiction become science fact--especially in computers and medical science--rather quickly.

    I think the actor you're thinking of is Lavar Burton.

  11. That's him Doug. If I may this is apart of what is called the Sed Systems and they play apart within the USA or have with these satellites.

  12. I'll have to do some research to get up to speed on this program Jack.

  13. This is the link and there is another which is within the research portion of the University but this is SED - http://www.sedsystems.ca/