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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
January 27, 1967 was the plug-out test in preparation of the Apollo 1 launch. This mission would be a test of the space craft and the first step for later moon missions.
A fire ensued, claiming the lives of the crew.
Virgil I. “Gus ” Grissom, (1926 - 1967)
Roger B. Chaffee (1935 - 1967
Edward H. White (1930 - 1967)
They were the first American astronauts lost in the in the line of duty. The Apollo spacecraft was heavily modified from the original build. Engineers made modification after modification culminating in a unsafe spacecraft. The maze of wiring was almost undecipherable, and fraying wiring (frayed from multiple modifications and changes) caused an arc in the current, resulting in a rapidly spreading fire. The high pressure, pure oxygen environment provided fuel for the fire. The three astronauts did not stand a chance.
A tragic irony of the fire was the hatch. Grissom’s Mercury capsule was lost due to a premature exploding hatch, allowing water to get inside, weighing it down too much for the recovery helicopters to lift. Designers questioned whether or not the hatch would pose a problem in sustained moon missions, resulting in a design that was manual, and did not allow for rapid exit. Once the fire started, there was not enough time to open the hatch to exit. Attempts to make the hatch safe in one area, posed an insurmountable problem in another.
The fire may have saved lives in the long run. The Apollo spacecraft was problematic and needed to be redesigned. The “Go” attitude of the administration and public was always pushing the program ahead, even to unsafe levels. Redesigning the spacecraft was simply not a desirable solution, especially with delays. What was to be a plugs-out rehearsal turned into tragedy. In the period after fire, and through the investigation, many problems came to light. NASA had no choice but to redesign the spacecraft. The lessons learned from the fire were all incorporated into a much safer and reliable space craft. Many experts and engineers agreed that without this redesigned spacecraft, more lives would have been in jeopardy as a result.
On this day in 1967, three men lost their lives in the pursuit of exploration and science. May they rest in peace.