Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee

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Roger Bruce Chaffee

Birthdate: (31)
Death: January 27, 1967 (31)
Immediate Family:

Son of Donald Chaffe and Blanche May Chaffe
Husband of Martha Horn
Father of <private> Chaffee and <private> Chaffee

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Immediate Family

About Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee

Roger Bruce Chaffee (February 15, 1935 – January 27, 1967), Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy, was a Naval Aviator, aeronautical engineer and a NASA astronaut in the Apollo program. Chaffee died along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at the then-Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Florida in 1967. Chaffee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the United States Navy Air Medal.

Early years

Roger Bruce Chaffee was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he became an Eagle Scout and graduated from Central High School. Turning down a possible appointment to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, Chaffee accepted a Naval ROTC scholarship and in September 1953 enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology. After transferring to Purdue University in the fall of 1954, Chaffee earned a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1957. While there, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Sigma social fraternity, and the Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Gamma Tau engineering honor societies. While at Purdue, Chaffee took flight training as part of the NROTC program in order to prepare him for a career as a Naval Aviator, soloing on 29 March 1957 and obtained his private pilot's license on 24 May 1957.

Chaffee married Martha Horn in Oklahoma City on August 24, 1957, whom he met while on a blind date in September 1955, and had two children, Sheryl Lyn (born 17 November 1958) and Stephen (born 3 July 1961).

Military career

Following graduation, Chaffee completed his Naval training on August 22, 1957 and was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. He would ultimately rise to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. After attending flight school at NAS Pensacola, Florida and NAS Kingsville, Texas, Chaffee was awarded his wings in early 1959. Chaffee was given a variety of assignments and participated in numerous training duties over the next few years, spending the majority of his time in photo reconnaissance squadrons. He was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, serving as safety officer and quality control officer for Heavy Photographic Squadron 62 (VAP-62) flying the A3D-2P (later RA-3B) Skywarrior.

In the book Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, it is claimed that he flew the U-2 spy plane, a U.S. Air Force aircraft which took the pictures of Soviet missiles in Cuba which President Kennedy used on television on October 22, 1962. However, during this time, Chaffee actually flew the U.S. Navy A3D-2P / RA-3B (a reconnaissance version of the carrier-based Douglas Skywarrior heavy attack / nuclear strike bomber). He was officially recognized for his service during the Cuban Missile Crisis with VAP-62, but his exact role is unclear and the Skywarrior was never employed in any overflights of Cuban territory during the crisis.

In mid-1962, Chaffee was accepted in the initial pool of 1800 applicants for third group of NASA astronauts. In January 1963, he entered the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio to work on a master of science degree in reliability engineering. While at AFIT, Chafee would continue to participate in astronaut candidate testing as the pool of candidates dropped to 271 in mid-1963.

NASA career

Chaffee was an avid hunter. After completing the astronaut application process, he went hunting to calm his nerves. It was while he was on that hunting trip that NASA called him to offer him an astronaut slot. On October 18, 1963 he was officially announced as one of 14 chosen for Astronaut Group 3.

He served as a capsule communicator, along with Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Eugene Cernan, for the Gemini 4 mission, in which Edward H. White II made his space walk. Chaffee later served as one of the pallbearers for fellow astronaut Elliot See, who was killed in a plane crash while training for the Gemini 9 mission.

He never got a seat on a Gemini mission, but was tasked with working on flight control, communications, instrumentation, and attitude and translation control systems in the Apollo program. He was paired with Grissom to fly chase planes to photograph the launch of an unmanned Saturn 1B rocket. On 21 March 1966, he received his first spaceflight assignment as Pilot for the first manned Apollo flight, AS-204, along with Command Pilot Grissom and Senior Pilot White. In June, the men got permission to name their flight Apollo 1.


Main article: Apollo 1

On January 27, 1967, Grissom, White and Chaffee were participating in a "plugs-out" countdown demonstration test at Cape Kennedy in preparation for the planned February 21 launch, when a fire broke out in the cabin, killing all three men. Chaffee's is believed by some to be the first cockpit voice to report the fire to ground controllers. During the seventeen seconds that the fire raged, fed by pure oxygen at slightly greater than atmospheric pressure, Chaffee stayed strapped to his right-hand seat, as it was his job to maintain communications in an emergency, while White in the center seat apparently tried in vain to open the hatch. At that point, the increasing pressure burst the inner cabin wall. Now fed by ambient air, the fire decreased in intensity and eventually put itself out, but produced large amounts of smoke, which killed the astronauts.

Chaffee and Grissom are both buried in Section 3 (GPS Coordinates: 38.873115 N, -77.072755 W) of Arlington National Cemetery, while White is buried at West Point Cemetery.


In Space

The crater Chaffee on the far side of the Moon.
Chaffee Hill, 14.3 km (8.9 mi) south-southwest of Columbia Memorial Station on Mars, part of the Apollo 1 Hills.
The star Gamma Velorum was nicknamed "Regor" ("Roger" spelled backwards).


Chaffee Hall, an engineering building at Purdue University, his alma mater.
Roger B. Chaffee Elementary in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville, also known as "Rocket City" because it is a major center for space technology and rocket development, simultaneously named Ed White Middle School and Virgil I. Grissom High School for his Apollo 1 crewmates.
Chaffee Trail Elementary located off of Chaffee Road in Jacksonville, Florida, opened in July 2007.
The US Navy high school at Naval Air Station Bermuda was named for him from 1970 to 1995. The school was closed with the hand-over of the base to the Bermudian government and is now named Clearwater Middle School.

Other sites

One of two Apollo 1 memorial plaques at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34. Island Chaffee, an artificial island in San Pedro Bay off Southern California.

Chaffee is remembered in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, the Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Boulevard in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming (at the location of the old Kent County Airport), and the Roger B. Chaffee Scholarship, awarded annually to exceptional students in math and science in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area.
The Roger B. Chaffee Lodge at Gerber Scout Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan. There is a plaque in the dining area dedicating the lodge to him and his service in the Boy Scouts of America and his sacrifice for the American space program.
Roger B. Chaffee Park in Fullerton, California. Fullerton has also named parks in honor of Grissom and White.
The dismantled Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral bears two memorial plaques: One says, They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived. and the other, In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could reach for the stars. Ad astra per aspera, (a rough road leads to the stars). God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.
Roger Chaffee Street in El Paso, Texas.
Roger Chaffee Drive in Amherst, New York.


United States Navy Air Medal (posthumous)
Congressional Space Medal of Honor, 1997 (posthumous)
NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award for involvement in the U.S. space program, 2007 (posthumous).

Film and television

In the 1995 film Apollo 13 Chaffee was played by Reed Rudy. In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by Ben Marley.

In Star Trek a shuttlecraft is listed as being called Chaffee.

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Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee's Timeline

February 15, 1935
January 27, 1967
Age 31