Roger B. Chaffee

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Roger B. Chaffee
NASA astronaut
Nationality American
Status Killed during training
Born (1935-02-15)February 15, 1935
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.[1]
Died January 27, 1967(1967-01-27) (aged 31)[1]
Cape Kennedy, Florida, U.S.
Resting place
Arlington National Cemetery[2]
Other names
Roger Bruce Chaffee
Other occupation
Naval aviator, test pilot
Illinois Tech
Purdue University, B.S. 1957[3]
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Lieutenant Commander,  United States Navy
Selection 1963 NASA Group 3
Missions Apollo 1
Mission insignia
Apollo 1 patch.png
Awards Congressional Space Medal of Honor Air Medal front.jpg Naval Aviator Badge.jpg

Roger Bruce Chaffee (February 15, 1935 – January 27, 1967), (LCDR, USN), was an American naval officer and aviator, aeronautical engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut in the Apollo program. He was selected to be an astronaut along with 13 other pilots as a part of NASA Astronaut Group 3. In 1967, Chaffee perished in a fire along with fellow astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Edward H. White during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at the then-Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Florida. Chaffee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and a second Navy Air Medal.[4]


Early life and education[edit]

Roger Bruce Chaffee was born on February 15, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In January 1935, at their hometown of Greenville, Michigan, his father Don Chaffee (1910–1998) was diagnosed with scarlet fever. Due to the risk of infection from the disease, his wife Blanche (1912–1996) moved in with her parents in Grand Rapids, where Roger was eventually born. The family spent the next seven years in Michigan, where Roger became an Eagle Scout and graduated in the top fifth of his class from Central High School in 1953. Turning down a possible appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, Chaffee accepted a Naval ROTC scholarship, and in September 1953 enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Chaffee performed well at the Illinois Institute of Technology, making the Dean's list and finishing with a B+ average. While enrolled, Chaffee also joined Phi Kappa Sigma.[5]

Chaffee was passionate about flying and had a high aptitude for science and engineering. To apply those talents, Chaffee transferred to Purdue University in the fall of 1954 to attend the school's well-known aeronautical engineering program.[5] Prior to his arrival in West Lafayette, Chaffee was to report for a 8-week tour on the battleship Wisconsin as a part of the NROTC program. To qualify, he had to take complete training and pass additional tests. He initially failed the eye exam, but the physician allowed him to retake the test the next morning, and he passed. Chaffee was then allowed to tour on the Wisconsin to England, Scotland, France, and Cuba. Upon his return to American soil, Chaffee still had some time before his first Fall semester at Purdue. To fill the gap, he worked as a gear cutter.[5]

Upon starting classes at Purdue in the Fall of 1954, Chaffee sought out a job to complement his coursework and involvement in Phi Kappa Sigma. His first job during his sophomore year was working as a server at one of the women's residences. Chaffee disliked the feminine environment and sought new employment. He was hired as a draftsman at a local company for a small business near Purdue. As a Junior, Chaffee's résumé continued to grow as he was hired as a teaching assistant in the Mathematics Department to teach classes to Freshman.[5]

Chaffee earned a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue in 1957. There he maintained his membership to the Phi Kappa Sigma social fraternity, and also joined the Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Gamma Tau engineering honor societies.[6] While at Purdue, Chaffee took flight training as part of the Naval ROTC program in order to prepare him for a career as a naval aviator, soloing on 29 March 1957, and obtaining his private pilot's license on 24 May 1957.[5]

Chaffee married Martha Horn in Oklahoma City on August 24, 1957; they had met on a blind date in September 1955.[5] The couple had two children, Sheryl Lyn (born November 17, 1958) and Stephen (born July 3, 1961).[7]

Navy service[edit]

Chaffee's Navy portrait

Following graduation, Chaffee completed his Navy training on August 22, 1957 and was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He then reported for temporary duty with Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. In October 1957, Chaffee attended flight school at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Since he was a naval aviator, he was posted to the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, from August 1958 to February 1959 as a part of Advanced Training Unit 212.[8] Chaffee was awarded his aviator wings in early 1959.[1][5] He then transferred to Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida, to continue his training. He joined Attack Squadron 44 in September 1959, and from October 1959 to March 1960 he trained with Heavy Attack Squadron 3.[8]

Chaffee was given a variety of assignments and participated in numerous training duties over the next few years, spending the majority of his time in photo reconnaissance squadrons. He was stationed at NAS Jacksonville as safety officer and quality control officer for Heavy Photographic Squadron 62 (VAP-62) flying the A3D-2P (later RA-3B) Skywarrior.[1][6] Chaffee was awarded the Air Medal after "completing 82 classified missions of paramount military importance to the security of the United States" in Heavy Photographic Squadron 62.[8] During his Navy service he logged more than 2,300 hours flying time, including more than 2,000 hours in jet aircraft.[1][5] On February 1, 1966, Chaffee was promoted to lieutenant commander.[8]

NASA career[edit]

The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way—the way God intended it to be—by giving everybody that new perspective from out in space.

Roger Chaffee[9]


In mid-1962, Chaffee was accepted in the initial pool of 1,800 applicants for the third group of NASA astronauts.[5] In January 1963, he entered the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to work on a Master of Science degree in Reliability Engineering.[6] While at AFIT, Chafee would continue to participate in astronaut candidate testing as the pool of candidates dropped to 271 in mid-1963. Chaffee was an avid hunter. After completing the astronaut application process, he went hunting to calm his nerves. It was while he was on that hunting trip that NASA called him to offer him an astronaut slot.[5] On October 18, 1963, he was officially announced as one of 14 chosen for Astronaut Group 3.[1]


Chaffee (sitting on hatch sill) during water egress training for Apollo 1

Phase one of training for the third group of astronauts began in 1964. The training began in lecture halls, where astronauts learned about several professional fields. Lectures were supplemented with trips to locations with geological significance so the astronauts could gain hands-on experience. The astronauts traveled from the Grand Canyon to learn about geography all the way to Alaska, Iceland, and Hawaii to learn about rock formations and lava flows.[5]

The second phase was contingency training. This survival training focused on astronauts learning the skills required to survive if the landing did not occur where planned. The group started their training by being dropped off in the middle of the jungle in Panama. The astronauts performed the survival training in pairs, carrying only their parachutes and survival kits. Chaffee, with help from his Boy Scout training, foraged for enough food to survive during the three day training mission. Following the jungle training, the astronauts traveled to an entirely different environment: the desert of Reno, Nevada. For clothing, the astronauts only had long underwear, shoes, and robes they manufactured from their parachutes. Lizards and snakes were the main source of food, and the astronauts used their parachutes as makeshift tents for shelter for the two days of desert training.[5]

The third and final phase was operational training for the astronauts. This training focused on giving the astronauts hands-on experience using the instruments and equipment required during their spaceflight. The training also focused on the sensations the astronauts would experience during spaceflight, such as the effects of microgravity and high acceleration. The astronauts spent time in simulators, flying aboard cargo planes to simulate weightlessness, underwater training to practice extravehicular activities (EVAs), and visits to manufacturing plants to check on the progress of the hardware.[5]

Project Gemini[edit]

Chaffee at the consoles in Mission Control during the Gemini 3 mission

At the Manned Space Center in Houston, Chaffee served as capsule communicator (CAPCOM) in March 1965 for Gemini 3.[10] Later that year, he served as CAPCOM again, along with Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Eugene Cernan, for the Gemini 4 mission, in which Edward H. White II performed the first spacewalk by an American.[1][5] As CAPCOM, Chaffee relayed information between the crew members and the Director of Flight Operations, Christopher Kraft.[5] He never got a seat on a Gemini mission, but was assigned to work on flight control, communications, instrumentation, and attitude and translation control systems in the Apollo program.[6] During this time, he was also flew chase planes with Grissom to photograph the launch of an unmanned Saturn 1B rocket.[5]

Apollo program[edit]

Apollo 1 crew, Grissom, White, and Chaffee

Chaffee received his first spaceflight assignment when he was selected in January 1966 for the first manned Apollo flight, AS-204. Joining Command Pilot Grissom and Senior Pilot White, he replaced injured Donn F. Eisele in the third-ranked Pilot position. Eisele required surgery for a dislocated shoulder which he sustained aboard the KC135 weightlessness training aircraft, and was subsequently reassigned to a second Apollo crew, to be commanded by Mercury veteran Wally Schirra.[11] The crew announcement was made public on March 21, 1966. Grissom, White, and Chaffee got permission to name their flight Apollo 1, as it was going to be the first manned orbital flight of the Apollo spacecraft. The two-week flight was not only to test the spacecraft systems, but also the ground tracking and control facilities.[5]

While Chaffee had monitored the manufacture of the Gemini spacecraft, he had not witnessed the building of the Apollo spacecraft. Three days after being selected for the Apollo I crew, he flew out to the North American Aviation Plant in Downey, California, to witness spacecraft production.[5]

Charred remains of the Apollo 1 Command Module, in which Chaffee was killed along with Gus Grissom and Ed White
For more details on this topic, see Apollo 1.

On January 27, 1967, Grissom, White and Chaffee were participating in a "plugs-out" countdown demonstration test at Cape Kennedy in preparation for the planned February 21 launch. Chaffee was sitting at the right side of the cabin.[5] His main role was to maintain communications with the Blockhouse. A momentary power surge was detected at 23:30:55 GMT, which was believed to accompany an electrical short in equipment located on the lower left side of the cabin, the presumed ignition source for the fire.[12]:5–10 At 23:31:04 GMT, Chaffee's voice is believed by most investigative listeners to be the one declaring, "[We]'ve got a fire in the cockpit."[12]:5-8 Assigned emergency roles called for Grissom, in the left-hand seat, to open the cabin pressure vent valve, after which White in the center seat was to open the plug door hatch, while Chaffee in the right-hand seat was to maintain communications. Grissom was prevented from opening the valve by the intensity of the fire, which started in that region and spread from left to right. Despite this, White removed his restraints and apparently tried in vain to open the hatch, which was held closed by the cabin pressure. The increasing pressure finally burst the inner cabin wall on the right-hand side at 23:31:19 GMT. After approximately thirty seconds of being fed by a cabin atmosphere of pure oxygen at pressures of 16.7 to 29 psi, and now fed by nitrogen-buffered ambient air, the primary fire decreased in intensity and started producing large amounts of smoke,[12]:5-3–5-4 which killed the astronauts.[12]:6-1 Failed oxygen and ethylene glycol pipes near the fire's origin point continued burning an intense secondary fire which melted through the cabin floor.[12]:5–4 By the time firefighters were able to open the hatch, the fire had extinguished itself. The back of Chaffee's couch was found in the horizontal position, with the lower portion angled towards the floor. His helmet was closed and locked, his restraints were undone, and the hoses and electrical connections to the suit remained connected.[12]:4-7 As he was farthest from the origin of the fire, he suffered the least amount of burns and suit damage.[12]:5-3


Shortly after the AS-204 fire in 1967, NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Spaceflight Dr. George Mueller announced the mission would be officially designated as Apollo 1.[13]

Chaffee and Grissom are both buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery, while White is buried at West Point Cemetery.[2][14]

Chaffee's name, along with Grissom's and White's, on the Space Mirror Memorial

Chaffee was memorialized in many ways, from Chaffee Crater on the far side of the Moon,[15]:66 to Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium located in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan.[16] The Roger B. Chaffee scholarship named for Chaffee has been awarded annually since 1967 to exceptional students in the Kent Intermediate School District for high school seniors who will be pursuing a career in math and science.[17] Chaffee Hall, an engineering building, was dedicated to him at his alma mater, Purdue University.[18] Another memorial is a hill on Mars, Chaffee Hill, 14.3 km (8.9 mi) south-southwest of Columbia Memorial Station, part of the Apollo 1 Hills.[19] The dismantled Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral bears two memorial plaques: One says, They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived. and the other, In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could reach for the stars. Ad astra per aspera, (a rough road leads to the stars). God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.[20]

Launch Complex 34 Plaques
Launch Complex 34 Plaque
Plaque inside of structure. 
Launch Complex 34 Plaque
Plaque on right rear column. 

Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Roger B. Chaffee". Astronauts Memorial Foundation. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Roger Bruce Chaffee, Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  3. ^ Kelly, Fred. "Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee". Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Roger Bruce Chaffee". Naval History and Heritage Command. March 7, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s White, Mary (August 4, 2006). "Detailed Biographies of Apollo I Crew - Roger Chaffee". Nasa. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved June 3, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c d "ROGER B. CHAFFEE". Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. 1997. Retrieved April 5, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Biographical Data". Space Acts. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved October 3, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f "Roger Bruce Chaffee". Naval History and Heritage Command. March 3, 2016. Retrieved September 18, 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "Named Pilot of the Apollo 1 crew.". New Mexico Museum of Space History. Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  10. ^ "Gemini 3 (3)". Kennedy Space Center: Science, Technology, and Engineering. August 25, 2000. Retrieved September 20, 2016. 
  11. ^ Teitel, Amy Shira (December 4, 2013). "How Donn Eisele Became "Whatshisname," the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 7". Popular Science. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Thompson, Floyd; Borman, Dolah; Faget, Maxime; White, George; Geer, Barton (April 5, 1967). Report of Apollo 204 Review Board (PDF). NASA. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 14, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Apollo 1". NASA. June 14, 2012. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  14. ^ "Cemetery Map" (PDF). United States Military Academy. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  15. ^ Byrne, Charles (2007). The Far Side of the Moon: A Photographic Guide. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9780387732060. 
  16. ^ "Chaffee Planetarium". Grand Rapids Public Museum. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship Fund". Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  18. ^ "Zucrow Laboratories History". Purdue University. Retrieved October 3, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Martian Landmarks Dedicated to Apollo 1 Crew". Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology. January 27, 2004. Retrieved September 20, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Biography". The Official Site of Edward White, II. Retrieved June 21, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Roger B. Chaffee". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  22. ^ Smith, Yvette (October 4, 2007). "NASA Honors Roger Chaffee With Exploration Award". NASA. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Congressional Space Medal of Honor". C-SPAN. December 17, 1997. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 

External links[edit]