Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Apollo 1

Purdue alumni have flown more than one-third of all manned U.S. flights, including Gus Grissom from Project Mercury in 1961; Neil Armstrong, Eugene Cernan and Grissom in the Gemini program in 1965 and 1966, and Armstrong and Cernan in the Apollo program from 1969–1972. Neil Armstrong and Eugene Cernan, respectively, were the first and last men to set foot on the moon.

Before the last Gemini mission ended, NASA selected the three men who would fly the maiden Apollo voyage scheduled for February 1967. The crew consisted of Lt. Colonel Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom (USAF), command pilot; Lt. Colonel Edward Higgins White, II (USAF), senior pilot; and Lt. Commander Roger Bruce Chaffee (USN), pilot.

On January 27, 1967, tragedy struck the Apollo program when a flash fire occurred in command module 012 during a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight, the AS-204 mission. The three astronauts died in this tragic accident. After the disaster, the mission was officially designated as Apollo 1. Two of the crew were Purdue alumni.

One of NASA’s seven original astronauts, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, made a 15-minute sub-orbital flight aboard his Mercury 4 capsule on July 21, 1961, making him the second American in space. He was the command pilot of the first two-person flight, Gemini 3. Born on 3 April 1926 in Mitchell, Indiana, Grissom was 40 years old on the day of the Apollo 1 fire. Grissom received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1950.

Ed White had been pilot for the Gemini 4 mission, during which he became the first American to walk in space. He was born 14 November 1930 in San Antonio, Texas, and was 36 years old on the day of the Apollo 1 fire. He received a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1952, an M.S. in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1959, and was selected as an astronaut in 1962.

Roger Chaffee was training for his first spaceflight. He was born 15 February 1935 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was 31 years old on the day of the Apollo 1 fire. He received a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1957, and was selected as an astronaut in 1963.

On January 27, 2004 - NASA memorialized the 37th anniversary of the tragedy to the Apollo 1 crew, by dedicating the hills surrounding the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover landing site to the astronauts. Newly christened Grissom Hill is located 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) southwest of Spirit’s position; White Hill is 11.2 kilometers (7 miles) northwest and Chaffee Hill is 14.3 kilometers (8.9 miles) south-southwest of the robot explorer’s location.