Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship Fund

Roger Chaffee was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attended Illinois Institute of Technology and earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1957. He was married to Martha Horn Chaffee, and had two children, Sheryl and Stephen. Chaffee was an Eagle Scout and a member of Phi Kappa Sigma.

Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee was a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and originally selected to NASA's Apollo program in 1963. Lieutenant Commander Chaffee was born February 15, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan and received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University. He died January 27, 1967 at NASA John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in the Apollo 1 fire.

 Apollo 1 (AS 204) Primary Crew
On January 27, 1967 Roger B. Chaffee (right), Edward H. White II (left), and Virgil I. Grissom (center)  were conducting "plugs-out" preflight tests aboard the command module of the first Apollo spacecraft atop the Saturn 1B launch vehicle on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy. The tests were intended to see if the launch vehicle could function on internal power alone.

For about two hours, the three astronauts worked in the command module (CM) with the hatch open, then at 2:50 p.m., they were sealed in. Pressure in the CM was increased and the mixture was switched to 100% pure oxygen. The astronauts and the launch crew ran simulation tests for three hours more. Then just before 6:31 p.m., telemetry from Apollo showed a surge in electrical current, indicating a short circuit somewhere on the spacecraft. It was later determined that the short had occurred within the CM, and that the spark had ignited wiring insulation in the pure oxygen environment.

At exactly 6:31 p.m., ground crew members outside the sealed command module heard Chaffee cry out over the radio "Fire! I smell fire!" Five seconds later, Grissom yelled, "We've got fire in the cockpit!" and 16 seconds after that, Chaffee was heard to say, "We've got a bad fire -- let's get out!"

Tragically, they could not get out. The CM hatch had no explosive bolts, as had Mercury and Gemini hatches; it was completely mechanical. The ground crew worked feverishly to open the hatch, braving billowing smoke and the scorching heat of the metal. But it was five minutes before they could open the complicated double hatch. When they succeeded, they found all three astronauts dead. Although their space suits had protected them from the flames, Chaffee, Grissom, and White had perished of smoke inhalation.

Just weeks before, Gus Grissom had said in an interview: "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business ... The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

As a result of the Apollo 1 fire, the manned Apollo program was delayed 21 months while NASA engineers completely modified and redesigned the cabin of the Apollo command module, making 1,341 changes -- including the incorporation of a quick-release hatch. Unmanned Apollo missions continued with Apollo's 4, 5, and 6 from late 1967 through the spring of 1968. The manned Apollo program resumed with the successful flight of Apollo 7 in October 1968.
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