Here is the eighth, and last, in a series of photographs centered on the early history of space flight on Cape Canaveral mostly taken during a tour organized by the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation. “Google” the foundation for details of future tours. Here we remember the loss of the Apollo 1 astronauts on Launch Complex 34 (LC-34).
In “Launch Complex 14 Today” we visited the place where John Glenn launched into the first American orbital mission. In ” John Glenn: A Memoir,” Glenn writes: Friendship 7 crossed the African coast twelve minutes after liftoff, a fast transatlantic transatlantic flight. I reached for the equipment pouch fixed just under the hatch. It used a new invention, a system of nylon hooks and loops called Velcro. I opened the pouch and a toy mouse floated into my vision. It was gray felt, with pink ears and a long tail that was tied to keep it from floating out of reach. I laughed; the mouse was Al’s joke, a reference to one of comedian Bill Dana’s characters, who always felt sorry for the experimental mice that had gone into space in rocket nose cones. In the early days, especially, the astronauts talked of this feeling among themselves, of being test subjects in a can and, by extension, like mice, expendable.
A monumental relief on the facade of Kennedy Space Center “Heroes and Legends” is from an iconic Project Mercury 7 photograph. Glenn is third from left, front row.
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Gus Grissom, center top in the relief, was the veteran astronaut on the Apollo 1 crew, with Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee. White was the first American to walk in space during Program Gemini . Chaffee entered the space program with Program Apollo. These are images from the “Heroes and Legends” memorial to Apollo 1: the mission patch created by the crew, the three on-site in front of the launch pad. The patch is reproduced on the space capsule.
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Gus Grissom, who almost drown when his Liberty Bell 7 capsule hatch opened prematurely after an Atlantic Ocean splashdown, was a vocal critic of the problem plagued Apollo 1 capsule. The crew sent the following photograph to the project manager, Joseph Shea, with the message, “It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head.” On issue was the quantity of flammables in the capsule. The use of velcro fasteners increased since the Glenn’s first orbital flight. There was 34 square feet of velcro throughout the capsule, almost like a carpet. Shea ordered it removed August 1966 and sometime before January 26 it was reinstalled. There were other flammable materials as well and a pressurized 100% oxygen. atmosphere.
The following photograph is low resolution, clicking on it will not yield a larger image.
On January 27, 1967 the crew was suited up, in the capsule, for a “plugs out” test on Launch Complex 34.
A spark started the fire, it quickly spread and the inward opening hatch cover could not be opened under cabin pressure. It took five minutes to open the hatch, Grissom, White and Chaffee were lost: asphyxiated and burned.
My photographs are from the “Heroes and Legends” exhibits of Apollo 1 and later missions. Above, next to the burned capsule hatch is the seared capsule mission patch. Below, a moving display is the personal effects of the lost astronauts.
Launch Complex 34 Today
By chance our Lighthouse tour was January 27th, the 51st anniversary of the loss of Grissom, White and Chaffee. As we approached the complex parked buses and a gathering of people came into view. All that is left is the massive poured concrete base of the launch tower, topped with rusting pipes.
The following two images are taken from the above photograph. On the left is the LC-34 information kiosk. The other is people gathered around a display of photographs and a person walking toward our approaching bus.
This turned out to be Dr. Sonny Witt, Director of Operations for the 45th Mission Support Group , Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Dr Witt came onto our bus and explained it was not possible to visit LC-34 today, with no further details, then went on to provide interesting background to Cape Canaveral Lighthouse. We were so lucky, instead of experiencing the abandoned structures, we had the attention of an expert who had published books on the subject.
Here is a UTube video featuring Dr. Witt on a tour of the lighthouse.
Sources of information for this post: I used information from the Wikipedia site for the key words Apollo 1. Memoir excerpt is from “John Glenn: A Memoir”, (pp. 341, 343). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.