The Apollo 1 astronauts during water egress
Apollo 1, initially designated AS-204, was the first manned mission of the United States Apollo program, which had as its ultimate goal a manned lunar landing. The low Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command/Service Module never made its target launch date of February 21, 1967.
A cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module (CM).
The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.
While there is no definitive date for the term EVA (extra vehicular activity), what is certain is that NASA scientists anticipated by a decade the need and eventuality of astronauts leaving their spacecraft. Before NASA could commission their shiny new initialism, however, Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov shocked the world with his short EVA from the Voshkod 2 spacecraft on exactly fifty one years ago today, on March 18, 1965. While he was only outside of the spacecraft for 12 minutes, it was a landmark achievement in the history of spaceflight. Re-entering the capsule, Leonov had some difficulty and got stuck in the airlock, requiring him to depressurize his suit slightly, risking the bends and seriously overheating himself. Although he was only stuck for 12 additional minutes, it could have been much worse and the Soviets didn’t try another EVA for four years. The first American EVA happened several months later when American Astronaut Edward H. White spent 21 minutes outside the Gemini capsule on June 3, 1965 attached to a 25 foot tether.
And for those who are wondering, what is the difference between an initialism and an acronym, the answer is simple. An initialism is when the letters are pronounced as letters (FBI, USA, etc.) and an acronym is when the initial letters are used to form a word such as PETA or SCUBA.
Ground Control to Gemini IV 🌎 On this day in 1965, Edward H. White II became the first American to walk in space. James A. McDivitt captured the moment with a Hasselblad 500C with a Zeiss Planar f/2.8 80mm lens. #FlashbackFriday
Ed White Performs the First American EVA 50 Years Ago Today (3 June 1965) — Astronaut Edward H. White II, pilot of the Gemini IV four-day Earth-orbital mission, floats in the zero gravity of space outside the Gemini IV spacecraft. White wears a specially designed spacesuit; and the visor of the helmet is gold plated to protect him against the unfiltered rays of the sun. He wears an emergency oxygen pack, also. He is secured to the spacecraft by a 25-feet umbilical line and a 23-feet tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand is a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU) with which he controls his movements in space. Astronaut James A. McDivitt, command pilot of the mission, remained inside the spacecraft. EDITOR’S NOTE: Astronaut White died in the Apollo/Saturn 204 fire at Cape Kennedy on Jan. 27, 1967.
stronaut Edward H. White II, pilot for the Gemini-Titan 4 space flight, floats in zero gravity of space. The extravehicular activity was performed during the third revolution of the Gemini 4 spacecraft. White is attached to the spacecraft by a 25-ft. umbilical line and a 23-ft. tether line, both wrapped in gold tape to form one cord. In his right hand White carries a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit (HHSMU). The visor of his helmet is gold plated to protect him from the unfiltered rays of the sun.
Feb. 7, 1984 photograph taken by his fellow crewmembers aboard the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-41B mission, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II approaches his maximum distance from the vehicle. McCandless became the first astronaut to maneuver about in space untethered, during this first “field” tryout of a nitrogen-propelled, hand-controlled backpack device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).
For 50 years, NASA has been “suiting up” for spacewalking. The first American to conduct a spacewalk, astronaut Edward H. White II, floated into the vastness of space on the Gemini IV mission on June 3, 1965. For more than 20 minutes, White maneuvered himself around the Gemini spacecraft as it traveled from over Hawaii to the Gulf of Mexico–making his orbital stroll 6,500 miles long. At the end of the 20-minute spacewalk, White was exuberant. “This is the greatest experience,” he said. “It’s just tremendous.”
Since this historic first, NASA astronauts have performed spacewalks, or extravehicular activity (EVA) in NASA-speak, on the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. Astronauts have explored the lunar surface, completed 82 spacewalks outside of the space shuttle, and 187 spacewalks, to date, outside the International Space Station. A total of 166 hours of spacewalks were carried out to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Today, NASA is developing new advanced spacesuits for use by astronauts as they travel to new deep-space locations on the journey to Mars. The next-generation suit will incorporate a number of technology advances to shorten preparation time, improve safety and boost astronaut capabilities during spacewalks and surface activities.
Edward H. White II became the first American to perform an Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) or “spacewalk” from the Gemini IV spacecraft on June 3, 1965. This image was taken from inside the Gemini IV on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the Museum in Washington, DC.
Image Number: SI2006-6407
Credit: Image by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
This photograph of the Gemini 7 spacecraft was taken from Gemini 6 during rendezvous and station keeping maneuvers at an altitude of approximately 160 miles above the Earth. Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 launched on December 15, 1965 and December 4, 1965, respectively. Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford on Gemini 6 and Edward H. White II and Michael Collins on Gemini 7 practiced rendezvous and station keeping together for one day in orbit.
May 7, 1965 - Astronaut James A. McDivitt , command pilot; and Edward H. White II, pilot, are inside a Gemini crew simulator during a training exercise in preparation for the scheduled flight of GT-4 on June 3, 1965. That June, White became the first American to walk in space.
“Nineteen years ago - almost to the day - we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, overcame them, and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together. For the families of the seven, we cannot bear as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that spirit that says, "Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve; and they did. They served all of us. We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. it’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we;ll continue to follow them… There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s complete. The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to 'touch the face of God.’“ – United States President Ronald Reagan’s Speech on The Challenger Disaster; January 28, 1986 (photos by Paul Hildebrandt, director/filmmaker, 'Fight for Space’)
This week, and forever, the crew of Apollo1 AS-204 and Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51-L are remembered and heralded for their achievements in the human spaceflight program. During this time, it’s become routine for many around the space community and amongst our human family on Earth to reflect upon and mourn those relatives of ours who put their lives at risk for the study, protection, and preservation of life on this biologically diverse biosphere we call home.
However, I can’t help but reflect on the above speech following Challenger’s demise feeling the same sentiments the world did then, while knowing what we know now, and what few were aware of at the time this speech was given. We certainly are explorers, pioneers, as asserted by President Reagan in 1986. But we were involved with an endeavor deserving the best of our energies and skills, as suggested by John F. Kennedy, who initiated this effort.
Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia were not accidents, they were (are) examples of human negligence. We 'should’ have taken proper precautions. We 'should’ have and 'could’ have done a lot of things. The United States government was in a competition of superiority - who was going to gain the "high ground” in space - with the Soviet Union. The astronauts involved were not astronauts by definition, they were active/former military pilots – they were soldiers. Their mission, as they chose to accept it, was not to advance a frontier of discovery and human advancement into space with the goal of settlement among new worlds; their mission was to carry out their positions on the front lines of a battle between [U.S.] and them.
Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee of Apollo 1 burned alive inside a crammed Command/Service Module – a mock space capsule riddled with mechanical failures, faulty equipment, and ultimately, an extremely dangerous environment overall to even be considered the testing platform for any human to operate with confidence. Seconds before the fire, “Gus” Grissom, exhausted and frustrated, is recorded saying:
“How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?”
The 'Challenger Seven’ crew perished 73 seconds into its flight not due to an “accident”, but mismanagement and leadership. The Space Shuttle itself was an extremely sensitive and dangerous vehicle to haul into space. Built for access into Low Earth Orbit only, it was critical that all precautions were taken, as meticulous subsystems on board were necessary for full reliability and service from launch to landing. However, instead of equipment or infrastructure at fault, it was that of the directors responsible for moving forward with the mission itself.
The day NASA was pressed to launch, temperatures that morning were well below what were suggested by the manufacturer/contractor of the rubber O rings responsible as a seal between the joints of the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) that contained the external fuel source, thus the breach and explosion.
A critical figure in the investigation leading up to and beyond the disaster was science communicator and notable physicist Richard P. Feynman, who submitted the most sober assessment of all those involved (and responsible) in one sentence:
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
NASA was being pressed and pushed by non-scientists to not delay another launch date, which would draw critique and cost-assessment from Congress and negative press from the media, who grew consistently tired and irritated of assembling their crews to attend launches only to be let down due to some technical information pertinent to a higher percentage of mission success, resulting in grumpy communication to the press, who continually lacked true insight into how this inspirational and massive space program was being coordinated behind closed doors.
Space Shuttle Columbia’s fateful reentry was no accident, either, paralleling the prior fates of cargo and crew. The vehicle was vulnerable to exterior damage, as demonstrated by a piece of foam insulation (applied to the external fuel tanks to prevent ice from forming due to the liquid hydrogen/oxygen contained inside) shedding upon launch and puncturing the shuttle’s left wing, which inevitably led to disintegration upon reentry.
Configuration of the Space Shuttle: strapping precious cargo alongside a very costly and flammable structure, where the slightest malfunction or puncture would amount to a very explosive situation. Prior to this assembly however, the steadily evolving human spaceflight program graduated from the rockets of Redstone (Mercury) to Titan (Gemini), then the true giant leap of our technological capability and prowess – the Saturn V rocket at the height of the Apollo program.
It worked. It could’ve taken us beyond the moon, and kept astronauts at a much safer distance from the fuel tanks, equipped with a more efficient mechanism to propel a human crew to safety when an abort maneuver was needed than the Space Shuttle ever could. While equipped with this knowledge, the human spaceflight program was downgraded into a joint crew and cargo effort to do what smaller rocket configurations eventually ended up doing, taking over the bulk of NASA’s directive, sending up astronauts to Low Earth Orbit “when necessary."
It’s essential and necessary to criticize our efforts. We all realize that the mission to the moon moved so quickly due to the threat of being outperformed by the Soviet Union. But the citizens of Earth didn’t see it this way. Surely patriotism influenced support for these programs, but we saw much more of ourselves when viewing the Earth from space. We envisioned a society with space hotels, spinoffs and everyday marketplace catalysts making their way into our daily lives at an accelerating rate, dreams of venturing off to other worlds, seeing our home planet from afar, being granted a wonderful new perspective on our existence together, and doing bold and risky things for the benefit of an entire planet.
We associated the term "hero” with those who dove to extraneous depths beneath the sea, rushed headstrong into fires to save lives, and sometimes, rode a behemoth of a launch vehicle into the sky amidst the quiet cold of space to extend our human presence beyond our terrestrial home.
Indeed, we will speak to our children about these incidents, but we will not be coy with them. We will explain the risks involved, the arduous task it is from conception to construction and launch to landing. We’ll illustrate the importance of space exploration alongside the tremendous impact it’s had on shaping our culture, our present understanding of the universe, ourselves, and our future as a species. We will not, however, lie to them about the cause and effect relationship in regards to the decisions that were made, and continue to be made. We’ll explain why space exploration companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, XCOR Aerospace, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, Astrobotic, and countless emerging others are poised to disrupt the political oligarchy whose kept the space program essentially “grounded” from doing what it is capable of.
Indeed, as President Reagan asserted, “the future does not belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave."
And we intend to equip our children with the knowledge necessary to recognize when there’s a problem, meet that problem with the same open mind that propelled us to discover it, and after meticulous scrutiny, extract everything we can from it to gain further perspective. We will tell our children that yes, these new endeavors being explored and performed by multiple space companies are the things we’ve been capable of since the American space program started; but those who direct the funding decided to pull back, even while it was bringing the world together toward a common evolving vision of the humankind’s future amongst the stars.
Today’s 'space entrepreneurs’ haven’t all had the same coincidental epiphanies. They witnessed the developing space program during their childhood, watched it whither and drift from mainstream news, pop culture, and most notably – Congressional priority. Having learned from a model of what not to do, they’re taking advantage of the plethora of modern scientific advancements along an accelerating exponential growth curve, and applying them toward the development of ambitions worthy of our attention, support, and above all – hope for the spacefaring future of humankind we anticipated not so long ago. The lives lost, accomplishments achieved, technologies developed, knowledge gained…the benefits accumulated throughout our efforts in space should have amounted to more than memories of a brief era of time where we once celebrated human beings worthy of recognition as heroes and explorers.
The human mistakes we’ve made have since passed, but what have we learned? Instead of steadily investing our funds and potential into a spacefaring future reflective of those who died for it – we’ve retracted, demonstrated by the budget we’ve misappropriated to developing technologies in preparation for warfare:
As we progress forward in an age where we are more digitally connected than ever before, maybe we’ve become victims of our own success. We’ve taken advantage of technologies the space program is directly responsible for, whereby we’re permitted quicker access to witness history unfolding in front of us. The difference however, between the space age of the 60’s/70’s is that the connectivity we’ve gained from those space assets bridged from exploration beyond Earth now allows us to take part in a means of activism and change like never before.