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Remembering the Apollo 1 Tragedy at Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral

 

Here’s a photo of me standing at Pad 34 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where 7 historic launches took place in the 1960s along with an even more historic failed launch. This is the exact place where Apollo 1 and its 3-man crew were supposed to have launched into space on February 20, 1967 on what was intended to have been the first manned flight of the Apollo program. Instead, Pad 34 ended up being the location of Apollo 1′s tragic ending.

 

If you were alive during that time you will remember the cabin fire that broke out during a launch pad test on January 27 of that year, claiming the lives of astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee and destroying the Apollo 1 command module. It was a heart-breaking accident that killed three national heroes and pushed back the lunar flight mission for another two years.

In October 1968, Apollo 7 launched from pad 34. It was the last manned launch ever to take place from this launch pad complex. After that mission, it was permanently retired. Today launch pad 34 is a US National Heritage site with the words “Abandon in Place” painted on one of its supports.

To me, the words look like they said, “Abandon in Peace” and though I felt sadness and the heavy weight of history as I stood there, there was a part of me that knew the sacrifice of the three astronauts was not in vain—and that realization filled me with a sense of peace.

My visit to Pad 34 took place in January, 1997, when I was asked to participate in a 30th anniversary memorial ceremony [link to other blog post] commemorating the Apollo 1 accident. It was one of the most memorable and humbling experiences of my life.

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