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][3]
Other names
Roger Bruce Chaffee
Other occupation
Naval aviator, test pilot
Illinois Tech
Purdue University, B.S. 1957[4]
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. Chaffee 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 the Navy Air Medal.


Early life and education[edit]

Roger Bruce Chaffee was born away from his hometown 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)[5] 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. Chaffee also joined Phi Kappa Sigma.[6]

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 its well-known aeronautical engineering program.[6] 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. Unfortunately for Chaffee, he initially failed the eye exam. Luckily, the physician allowed him to retake the test the following morning, which 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.[6]

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.[6]

At Purdue, Chaffee earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1957. While 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.[7] 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 obtained his private pilot's license on 24 May 1957.[6]

Chaffee married Martha Horn in Oklahoma City on August 24, 1957, whom he met while on a blind date in September 1955,[6] and had two children, Sheryl Lyn (born November 17, 1958) and Stephen (born July 3, 1961).[8]

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 would ultimately rise to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After attending flight school at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, Chaffee was awarded his aviator wings in early 1959.[1][6] 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 Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, serving as safety officer and quality control officer for Heavy Photographic Squadron 62 (VAP-62) flying the A3D-2P (later RA-3B) Skywarrior.[1][7]

In the book Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, it is claimed that he flew the U-2 spy plane, a U.S. Air Force aircraft which took the pictures of Soviet missiles in Cuba which President Kennedy used on television on October 22, 1962. However, during this time Chaffee actually flew the U.S. Navy A3D-2P/RA-3B (a reconnaissance version of the carrier-based Douglas Skywarrior heavy attack/nuclear strike bomber). He was officially recognized for his service during the Cuban Missile Crisis with VAP-62, but his exact role is unclear and the Skywarrior was never employed in any overflights of Cuban territory during the crisis.

In mid-1962, Chaffee was accepted in the initial pool of 1,800 applicants for the third group of NASA astronauts.[6] 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.[7] While at AFIT, Chafee would continue to participate in astronaut candidate testing as the pool of candidates dropped to 271 in mid-1963.

During his Navy service he logged more than 2,300 hours flying time, including more than 2,000 hours in jet aircraft.[1][6]

NASA career[edit]

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

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]

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.[6] On October 18, 1963, he was officially announced as one of 14 chosen for Astronaut Group 3.[1]

He served as a capsule communicator (CAPCOM), along with Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Eugene Cernan, for the Gemini 4 mission, in which Edward H. White II made his space walk.[1] Chaffee later served as one of the pallbearers for fellow astronaut Elliot See, who was killed in a plane crash while training for the Gemini 9 mission.

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. He was paired with Grissom to fly chase planes to photograph the launch of an unmanned Saturn 1B rocket. He received his first spaceflight assignment on an Apollo crew in January 1966, when he replaced Donn F. Eisele as Pilot for the first manned Apollo flight, AS-204, along with Command Pilot Grissom and Senior Pilot White. The crew announcement was made public on March 21, 1966. Eisele required surgery for a dislocated shoulder which he sustained aboard the KC135 weightlessness training aircraft, and was subsequently reassigned to the crew for the second Apollo flight, to be commanded by Mercury veteran Wally Schirra.[10]


Main article: Apollo 1
Apollo 1 crew, Grissom, White, and Chaffee
Charred remains of the Apollo 1 Command Module, in which Chaffee was killed along with Gus Grissom and Ed White

In June 1966, the men got permission to name their flight 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, when a fire broke out in the cabin, killing all three men. Chaffee's is believed by most investigative listeners of the recording to be the voice which declared, "[We]'ve got a fire in the cockpit." During the twenty-three seconds that the fire was fed by pure oxygen at slightly greater than atmospheric pressure, Chaffee stayed strapped to his right-hand seat, as it was his job to maintain communications in an emergency, while White in the center seat apparently tried in vain to open the hatch. The increasing pressure finally burst the inner cabin wall; now fed by nitrogen-buffered ambient air, the fire decreased in intensity and eventually put itself out, but produced large amounts of smoke, which killed the astronauts.

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


Chaffee was a member of several organizations: Member, Tau Beta Pi, National Engineering Society, Sigma Gamma Tau, and Phi Kappa Sigma.

Awards and honors[edit]


In space[edit]



Other sites[edit]

Chaffee's name along with Grissom's and White's on the Space Mirror Memorial
  • Island Chaffee, an artificial island in San Pedro Bay off Southern California.[17][18]
  • Chaffee is remembered in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, the Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Boulevard in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming (at the location of the old Kent County Airport),[19] and the Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship, awarded annually to exceptional students in math and science in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area.
  • The Roger B. Chaffee Lodge at Gerber Scout Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan. There is a plaque in the dining area dedicating the lodge to him and his service in the Boy Scouts of America and his sacrifice for the American space program.
  • Roger B. Chaffee Park in Fullerton, California.[20] Fullerton has also named parks in honor of Grissom and White.
  • 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.[21]
  • Chaffee Court (now demolished) housing development on Patuxent River Naval Air Station where he trained.
  • Chaffee is remembered at Michigan's Military and Space Heroes Museum, located in Frankenmuth, Michigan, with a display case of various memorabilia.
Launch Complex 34 Plaques
Launch Complex 34 Plaque
Plaque inside of structure. 
Launch Complex 34 Plaque
Plaque on right rear column. 

Film and television[edit]

In the 1995 film Apollo 13 Chaffee was played by Reed Rudy. In the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by Ben Marley.

The episode "The Sound of Her Voice" from the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine features a shuttlecraft named the Chaffee assigned to the USS Defiant.

Physical description[edit]

  • Weight: 152 lb (69 kg)
  • Height: 5 ft 9½ in (1.77 m)
  • Hair: Brown
  • Eyes: Brown[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Roger B. Chaffee". Astronauts Memorial Foundation. Retrieved June 20, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Roger Bruce Chaffee, Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Roger Bruce Chaffee". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 5, 2016. 
  4. ^ Kelly, Fred. "Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee". Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  5. ^ Roger B. Chaffee' parents
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 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. 
  7. ^ a b c "ROGER B. CHAFFEE". Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. 1997. Retrieved 5 April 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "Biographical Data". Space Acts. Archived from the original on 2016-03-07. 
  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. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Congressional Space Medal of Honor". C-SPAN. December 17, 1997. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Roger B. Chaffee". Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  13. ^ Smith, Yvette (October 4, 2007). "NASA Honors Roger Chaffee With Exploration Award". NASA. Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  14. ^ Roger B. Chaffee Elementary, Huntsville (Ala.) City Schools official site Archived August 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ Jaques, Bob (June 6, 2002). "First spacewalk by American astronaut 37 years ago" (PDF). Marshall Star. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. p. 5. 
  16. ^ "Press Release". Duvall County Public Schools. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. 
  17. ^ "Fallen Astronauts: Book Review". 
  18. ^ "City of Long Beach Enterprise Zone". Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. 
  19. ^ Location of Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Drive in Grand Rapids
  20. ^ "List of Parks". City of Fullerton. 
  21. ^ "Biography". The Official Site of Edward White, II. Retrieved June 21, 2016. 

External links[edit]