January 27, 1967: NASA Loses the 3 Astronauts of Apollo 1

News footage from one of the early tragedies of the U.S. space program

On January 27, 1967, the three astronauts who had been selected for the first of NASA's Apollo missions entered a grounded space capsule in Cape Canaveral, Florida. They were preparing for a flight on February 21, which would send the capsule—the Apollo Command/Service Module—into low-Earth orbit. The trio was doing, that day, just one more simulation: They wanted to make sure that they had their checklist down cold so that, when they took their flight out of Earth, nothing would be left to chance. 

They would never make that flight. Instead, the astronauts of Apollo 1 ended up perishing inside their service module—the victims of a fire that spontaneously broke out and, it seems, of the carbon monoxide gas that came with it. Command pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, senior pilot Edward H. White II, and the rookie Roger B. Chaffee were some of the earliest human casualties of the U.S. space program; they would not, of course, be the last. 

The video above offers a reminder of the Apollo 1 tragedy as it would have been experienced by many of its time: as a newscast. One with an orchestral soundtrack, still images of the astronauts, and a narrator who noted that "their memory will forever be honored." 

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

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