Crew members of NASA’s Apollo 1 mission were honored this week at the Arlington National Cemetery for the tragedy that was the first in American space program history. More than half a century ago, a fire during a preflight test took the lives of three astronauts, forever impacting the the world of space.
“I just sort of wanted to have everybody remember all three,” Bonnie Lynn White, a daughter of one of the astronauts killed, told CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. “You know, they were family men, but they were professionals. They were daring and they had fun. They were just great people and I would like to see people really go and look into who they were.”
Families of the deceased astronauts requested the monument have a Latin motto carved into stone which translates to: “A rough road leads to the stars.” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined families who laid flowers at the unveiled memorial site on Thursday.
On January 27, 1967, just three weeks ahead of the scheduled launch, astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee arrived at Cape Kennedy for a dress rehearsal flight inside their command module. The mission was set to become the first crewed flight of Apollo, according to NASA.
But three hours into the test flight, a fire swept through the launchpad’s command module, trapping and killing the astronauts.
Years later, when tragedy struck NASA again with the “Challenger” and “Columbia” missions, the lives lost were honored with memorial services at Arlington National Cemetery. Even though Grissom and Chaffee were laid to rest there decades earlier, there was no memorial service at the time for their deaths, prompting families to push for a monument.
Jamie Draper, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, told Van Cleave that lessons from the Apollo 1 incident contributed to the success of future space missions.
“The incident really shook not only the space program, but America to the core,”Draper told Van Cleave. “Without their sacrifice, the program would not have been reconfigured and we would not have made it to the moon.”