NASA opened Friday an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center that honors the three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire. NASA gave a glimpse to one of its most tragic artifacts: the hatch door of the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

It’s been 50 years since Indiana native Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died trapped inside the Apollo 1. Its hatch along with the capsule had been concealed and kept away from people, but now NASA has decided to let people see what remains of Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The exhibit also includes the redesigned hatch used on the spacecraft that carried men to the moon.

The entrance to the new Apollo 1 exhibit Image Credit: NASA.

“I’m just so pleased that they finally decided to do something — visibly — to honor the three guys,” said Chaffee’s widow, Martha. “It’s time that they show the three who died in the fire appreciation for the work that they did”

Apollo 1 was America’s first space tragedy

The exhibit opened on Friday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, exactly half-a-century after the 27 January 1967, when three astronauts died trapped in the Apollo 1 as a fire ripped through the cabin. NASA officials said that was about time for Apollo 1 to have its exhibit. 

Grissom, White, and Chaffe’s families were at the Friday opening to, though they got a private tour on Wednesday. They had an early evening ceremony at the abandoned pad where the flash fire occurred 50 years ago. Four tourists from Wisconsin, were in the ceremony because they got on the wrong bus.

The exhibit provides a look at the three astronauts, not just as pilots but as in their roles as husbands and fathers too. It also honors the launch pad workers who risk their lives trying to save the crew. That day, five decades ago, six of them entered the white room, which was full of toxic smoke to try to do something. Their hands were burned, they couldn’t see or breathe. But at the end, it was all in vain.

“It is really fitting for those three wonderful individuals: Roger, Ed, and Gus. I knew them well,” said Apollo 10’s Tom Stafford.

No one is 100 percent sure about what made Appollo 1 fail. According to engineers, the fire was probably caused by a spark from frayed wiring, or by the release of combustible coolants, triggering fast-burning oxygen-driven flames aided by flammable materials throughout the cockpit. A medical board determined that the three astronauts died of carbon monoxide asphyxia.

Apollo was the first space tragedy of the United States. It was followed by two other disasters, the 1986 Challenger and the 2003 Columbia incidents. However, there is also a history of successes, between the 1960s and 1970s, 24 Americans flew to the moon, and 12 walked on the lunar surface.

“Had that accident occurred in space, we’d have never known exactly what had happened,” Stafford said. “But we did find out what happened. We made so many changes. In nine months we flew five missions, four of them on the giant Saturn 5, three of them had lunar modules and three of those to the moon, the most successful flight test program ever.”

Gus said before the launch of Apollo 1 that conquering the space was worth all risks. However, they didn’t die in vain because the pride in NASA was resurrected and they fixed the problems Apollo 1 had.

Kennedy’s associate director Kelvin Manning was present at the ceremony, and he took the time to say that NASA still believes, after many decades, that it can make possible commercial journeys to space and Mars.

Source: Spacefly Now