Apollo 1 Anniversary

Memories from the catastrophe on Launch Complex 34

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).

Test Mice

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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Mural on the outside wall of the “Heroes and Legends” immersive experience, Kennedy Space Center near the Rocket Garden.

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.

The Apollo 1 crew expressed their concerns about the capsule in this parody of their crew portrait sent to ASPO manager Joseph Shea on August 19, 1966. From left to right: Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. April 1, 1966. NASA photograph

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.

LC-34, site of the Apollo 1 disaster

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.

Click for the first post of this series, “Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.”

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved.

Launch Complex 14 Today

Look Around Launch Complex 14

Here is the seventh 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 drive into Launch Complex 14 (LC-14) and look around.

Overview

In “Mercury 7 Pre-Launch Facilities” we learned how the present and past merge a few miles to the south at LC-36 where construction for launching a “New Glenn” rocket is underway by Blue Origin, an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services company.

After viewing the Mercury 7 memorial, we approach the decommissioned blockhouse of LC-14.

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Under the “Welcome to Complex 14” sign, looking close, are freshly painted parking spaces for John Glenn, Jr. Lt Col; M. Scott Carpenter, LCDR; Walter M. Schirra, LCDR; L. Gordon Cooper, Maj.; the three astronauts who left for parts unknown from the launch pad just 873 feet to the south. Wow, that was close to the rocket. The solid blockhouse was a necessity, calling to mind the risks the single astronaut faced wait for the countdown, at the top of an Atlas missile.

Welcome to Complex 14, Launch Site of Free World’s First ICBM, Free World’s First Man In Orbit. Operated for the USAF NASA by General Dynamics Astronautics.

Shortly after their selection, the seven astronauts witnessed a test launch of an Atlas missile, the ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) used to propel them into space. It was an spectacular failure, exploding in front of them. At the time, the missile was not reliable enough to be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Scott Carpenter’s Aurora 7 Mercury Atlas rocket lifts off from Pad 14, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 24, 1962.

July 29, 1960 the first test of an unmanned Mercury capsule, Mercury-Atlas 1, lasted just over 3 minutes before exploding 8 miles high and 6 miles away. In the words of Owen Maynard, a NASA systems engineer, “The problem of mating the Mercury capsule to the Atlas was far from being properly resolved at the time of MA-1.”

The Capsule and Launch Escape System of the Mercury-Atlas, the rocket that sent the first American into orbit. Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden.

Col. Glenn’s Memoir

Six test iterations and less than two years later, John Glenn had these thoughts viewing the Atlas rocket the morning of his flight, “Searchlights lit the silvery Atlas much as they had the night we had watched it blow to pieces. I thought instead of the successful tests since then.”

The ruins of the place where John Glenn launched into the first American orbital mission in space. He was atop a Mercury-Atlas rocket.

These were Col. Glenn’s thoughts while sitting in the Mercury capsule, minutes from lift off, “In a mirror near the capsule window, I could see the blockhouse and back across the Cape. The periscope gave me a view out over the Atlantic. It was turning into a fine day. I felt a little bit like the way I had felt going into combat. There you are, ready to go; you know all the procedures, and there’s nothing left to do but just do it. People have always asked if I was afraid. I wasn’t. Constructive apprehension is more like it. I was keyed up and alert to everything that was going on, and I had full knowledge of the situation—the best antidote to fear. Besides, this was the fourth time I had suited up, and I still had trouble believing I would actually take off.”

History

Thankfully, we remember Friendship 7 as a great success. Today, the rocket stands among the others at Kennedy Space Center.

From the left: Mercury-Atlas, Gemini-Titan II, Mercury-Redstone, Delta, Juno I. Taken in twilight, January 30, 2018.
From the Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden, the capsule topped by thee Launch Escape System of the Mercury-Redstone rocket that launched the first American into space.

Sources of information for this post: I used information from the Wikipedia site for the key words John Glenn, Launch Complex 14, Mercury-Atlas, Launch Complex 36, Blue Origin, Mercury-Atlas 1. The photograph of Aurora 7 is from Flickr in “NASA on the Commons” photostream. The Col. Glenn quotes are from Glenn, John. “John Glenn: A Memoir”, (pp. 341, 343). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Click for the next post of this series, “Apollo 1 Anniversary.”

Click for the first post of this series, “Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.”

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved.

Mercury 7 Pre-Launch Facilities

Hosting Astronaut ZZZZZZZ’s and much more

Here is the sixth 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 explore pre-launch support for the Mercury program, including the first USA Orbital Launch of John Glenn from Launch Complexe 14 (LC 14).

Overview

Leaving LC 1 – 4 (see Post WWII Launch Complexes”), our bus turned onto Central Control Road passing construction on Launch Complex 36 (LC36). In 2015 Blue Origin (Amazon money) leased LC36 where it planned to launch the “New Glenn” vehicle after 2020. I snapped the churned up sand and construction equipment, not interesting at all IMHO.

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Corner of Central Control and ICBM Roads. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The “New Glenn” was named in homage to John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. We turned right onto to ICBM Road, headed generally north, following a string of launch complexes along the Altantic shore toward Launch Complex 14 (LC14). A dissapointment was not stopping to walk the Mercury 7 Memorial at the corner of ICBM Road and LC14. Our bus stopped briefly enough for the following snap. It is a memorial because John Glenn, the surviving member of Mercury 7, passed away December 8, 2016 at the age of 95.

Mercury 7 Memorial, just off ICBM Road

I will cover at length the Mercury-Atlas vehicle that powered John Glenn into orbit February 20, 1962. The tie-in between ICBM road and this series of launch complexes is the early space missions were on re-purposed Intercontinental Ballistic Missles (thus, ICBM). “Atlas” is the name of the ICBM used for Colonel Glenn’s 1962 flight. Click on the following image to find labled pushpins for the corner of Central Control and ICBM Roads (upper right), the road to LC14 and Mercury 7 Memorial.

You will also find a pushpin for the Skid Strip, bottom just to right of center. The earliest cruise missle tests (see “Cruise Missles” and Post WWII Launch Complexes” ) included navigation to a landing on non-wheeled “skids.” The strip was maintained in support of the manned and later missions when cargo planes delivered the early space capsules, landing, not skidding hopefully, for transfer to a Pre-Launch facility, Hangar S.

Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 14 and Pre-Launch Support: Hangar S and the Skid Strip

Hangar S is seen below as we passed later in the tour. Built 1957 by the military the 61,300 square feet were acquired by NASA in 1959. The early space capsules were tested here in an vacume chamber to ensure the vehicle supported an breathable atmosphere for the occupants.

The first American space voyager was Ham, a chimpanzee. Ham lived in a residential area on the second floor of Hangar S. For a period of time the Mercury 7 shared the spartan second floor quarters. “The Right Stuff” (a 1984 film from a Tom Wolfe book) included scenes from this episode of the program.

Constructed in 1957, Hangar S served for pre-flight processing from Mercury through the final flight of the Space Shuttle. This is where the Mercury 7 astronauts were first quartered on the second floor and later, is where they stayed prior to flight. The Lunar Orbiter was prepared here.

Comfortable Quarters

In short order arrangements were made for more comfortable quarters, just off the ocean in Cocoa Beach. It was a new hotel given over entirely to the Mercury 7. Pam and I stayed there in 2018 while taking this tour, it is the La Quinta across from the International Palms. We recommend it a clean, comfortable, reasonably price and a great story to share afterwards. The Atlantic Ocean is a five minute walk.

La Quinta Inn was the home of the Mercury 7 Astronauts, 1275 N Atlantic Avenue Cocoa Beach, Florida 32931

I learned from the tour how the hotel was donated to the Mercury 7 by a private individual. They owned the hotel. Here is a very informative sign just off the La Quinta lobby with their names. Each first mission, as named by the astronaut, is listed.

La Quinta Inn was the home of the Mercury 7 Astronauts, 1275 N Atlantic Avenue Cocoa Beach, Florida 32931
View of the hotel built for and first owned by the Marcury 7 astronauts. They lived here in the early days of the USA space program.

Blastoff!!

Next post will feature images of LC14 from 2018.

Launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned orbital space flight. Astronaut John Glenn aboard, the Mercury-Atlas rocket is launched from Pad 14. Public Domain Photograph by NASA.

ClickMe for the next post in this series, “Launch Complex 14 Today.”

ClickMe for the first post in this series, “Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.”

Sources of information for this post: I used information from the Wikipedia site for the key words John Glenn, Launch Complex 14, Mercury-Atlas, Launch Complex 36. Plus a “google” on “Hangar S History” that found an excellent page hosted on the NASA site. Cover photo of Friendship 7 Launch my be found on Flickr in “NASA on the Commons” photostream.

Copyright 2019 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved.