There is no doubt that space exploration can be a hazardous adventure. Forty-five years ago on January 27, 1967, Apollo 1’s crew—Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger Chaffee—was killed when a fire erupted in their command module during testing.
The mission was to be the first crewed flight of Apollo, and was scheduled to launch Feb. 21, 1967. This was to be Chaffee’s first spaceflight. White had piloted Gemini 4 in 1965 and Grissom was a veteran of both the Mercury (Redstone-Mercury 4, 1961) and Gemini (Gemini 3, 1965) programs.
Apollo 1 was originally designated AS-204 but following the fire, the astronauts’ widows requested that the mission be remembered as Apollo 1 and following missions would be numbered subsequent to the flight that never made it into space.
The exhaustive investigation of the fire and extensive reworking of the Apollo command modules postponed crewed launches until NASA officials cleared the them for flight. Saturn IB schedules were suspended for nearly a year, and the launch vehicle that finally bore the designation AS-204 carried a lunar module as the payload, instead of a command module. The missions of AS-201 and AS-202 with Apollo spacecraft aboard had been unofficially known as Apollo 1 and Apollo 2 missions. AS-203 carried only the aerodynamic nose cone.
In the spring of 1967, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dr. George E. Mueller, announced that the mission originally scheduled for Grissom, White and Chaffee would be known as Apollo 1, and said that the first Saturn V launch, scheduled for November 1967, would be known as Apollo 4. The eventual launch of AS-204 became known as the Apollo 5 mission. No missions or flights were ever designated Apollo 2 or 3.
The second launch of a Saturn V took place on schedule in the early morning of April 4, 1968. Known as AS-502, or Apollo 6, the flight was a success, though two first-stage engines shut down prematurely, and the third-stage engine failed to reignite after reaching orbit.
It was not until Apollo 7 (11-22 October 1968) that NASA attempted to, and successfully launched a manned Apollo mission.
(Photo credits: NASA history achieves)