A memorable space tragedy’s artifact has been locked away, but after 50 years, will finally be taken out of storage.
The Apollo 1 hatch that locked Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in a burning spacecraft will be put on display at the Kennedy Space Center on the 50th anniversary of the fire, which occurred in 1967. The crew was on a practice run on January 27, 1967 for an orbital test of the craft when a fire broke out.
An electric fire, likely caused by faulty wiring, ignited inside the Apollo 1 capsule during a countdown rehearsal. Though the astronauts fought to get the door open, they were overcome by the smoke and fume, dying inside the aircraft.
Remnants from the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia shuttles have been on display for more than a year, so those affected by the Apollo 1 tragedy are glad NASA decided to display the piece in their memory.
"I'm just so pleased that they finally decided to do something — visibly — to honor the three guys," Chaffee's widow, Martha, said in a press release. "It's time that they show the three who died in the fire appreciation for the work that they did."
Kelvin Manning, associate director of the Kennedy Space Center, said a memorial for the Apollo 1 mission was accidentally overlooked likely because it wasn’t in their generation and wasn’t “on [their] radar.” The team has since decided to make things right and honor the mission with the display.
"This is way, way, way long overdue. But we're excited about it," said Scott Grissom, Gus' older son. He believes NASA was embarrassed about the fire "and that's why they pretty much kept it in the closet as long as they have,” whereas Martha believes NASA was simply in shock.
The families saw the capsule for the first time during a private tour yesterday, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation is holding their annual observance ceremony today, and the hatch will officially be on display to the public Friday, January 27.