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Honoring the Crew of Apollo 1

 

As time passes, there are a few signal events that people of all walks of life will remember and vividly tell you exactly where they were and what they felt when they first heard the news or watched the event unfold. For my generation, one of those signal events was the triumphant landing on the moon of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle in July of 1969. This epic moment in history was preceded in time by another event that many also remember: the tragic launch rehearsal fire that took the lives of Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. On the evening of Jan. 27, 1967, a half century ago today, I watched, along with millions of other Americans, as CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite reported the sad news that America had lost its first astronaut crew. It truly was a depressing day for this young space enthusiast.

A national memorial to the Apollo 1 crew on the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery would serve as a fitting tribute from our nation to these three gallant men. It will also recognize the enormous work of hundreds of thousands of workers in the aerospace industry and at NASA who helped make the triumph of the Apollo space program possible.

Back in that time in our nation’s history, while Americans were shocked by the loss of the astronauts, we were also preoccupied with fixing Apollo’s problems and beating the Soviet Union to a lunar landing – making the issue of properly memorializing the astronauts less of a pressing concern. Later, with the images of the Space Shuttle Challenger launch explosion and Columbia reentry breakup dramatically broadcast on television, perhaps there was more impetus behind the idea of Congress proposing fitting memorials for those crews at Arlington National Cemetery. Whatever the case, it strikes many in the aerospace community that the lack of a fitting memorial at Arlington to the three astronauts – all of whom are service veterans, and two of whom, Grissom and Chaffee, are buried in Arlington – is a historic oversight that should be corrected.

patch that never flew

The patch that never flew: The Apollo 1 mission patch. NASA photo

Fortunately, there are members of Congress who have the same view. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, will reintroduce today the “Apollo 1 Memorial Act” legislation, which would “direct the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to construct at an appropriate place in Arlington National Cemetery, a memorial marker honoring these American heroes.”

A national memorial to the Apollo 1 crew on the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery would serve as a fitting tribute from our nation to these three gallant men. It will also recognize the enormous work of hundreds of thousands of workers in the aerospace industry and at NASA who helped make the triumph of the Apollo space program possible.

As we mark today the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy, it would be most appropriate if Congress now takes action to to properly recognize the heroes of the Apollo 1 crew.

By

Edward Goldstein has more than 20 years' experience in the U.S. space community. From...