Mon | Oct 16, 2017

Hundreds honour 3 astronauts lost in Apollo fire 50 years ago

Published:Friday | January 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Family members of fallen astronauts place a wreath at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial yesterday at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

CAPE CANAVERAL (AP):

Moonwalkers and dozens of others who took part in NASA's storied Apollo programme paid tribute yesterday to the three astronauts killed in a fire 50 years ago.

On the eve of the Apollo 1 anniversary, hundreds gathered at Kennedy Space Center to honour Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. They died inside their burning spacecraft, during a countdown rehearsal at the launch pad on January 27, 1967

On Friday, NASA is opening an Apollo 1 exhibit featuring the hatch that prevented the three astronauts from escaping. It has been concealed for the past half-century along with the capsule. The families of Grissom, White and Chaffee got an early look Wednesday evening at the display at the visitor complex, and liked what they saw.

"Really awesome," said daughter Sheryl Chaffee, who just retired from NASA. "It's very fitting. We all feel like it's about time."

The Apollo 1 fire NASA's first space tragedy has long been overshadowed by the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia accidents. The 14 lost shuttle astronauts also were recognised yesterday, along with seven other US astronauts killed in plane crashes.

The anniversaries of all three big accidents fall within days: Apollo 1 on January 27, Challenger on January 28 and Columbia on February 1.

Among the many astronauts attending Thursday's ceremony were the two surviving crew members of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, as well as Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke and Apollo 10's Thomas Stafford.

Collins, who orbited the moon in 1969 while Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on it, said Apollo 1 never launched, but in many ways was as important as later flights.