Grand Rapids native died in Apollo 1 disaster

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids native played a big role in the efforts to get to the moon.

Two and half years before the Apollo 11 mission, Grand Rapids native Roger Chaffee, along with Virgil Grissom and Edward White, were running final checks in the Apollo 1 command module on Jan. 27, 1967.

That’s when a fire broke out in the cockpit. The men couldn’t get out and they died.

“Of course, it was a great shock to all of us who were space nuts to hear about the disaster that took his life,’ said David DeBruyn, curator emeritus at the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium in Grand Rapids

That delay resulted in a complete redesign of the Apollo capsule, including safety improvements to the hatching system NASA used to get astronauts in and out.

“Apollo 1 set back the space program by a year, at least,” DeBruyn said. “When the Apollos eventually flew in 1968, they were much safer vehicles.”

During that time, DeBruyn was working at the Grand Rapids Planetarium. He says almost immediately after the Apollo 1 disaster, the director of the public museum at the time had the idea to name the planetarium after Chaffee.

It officially changed its name in May 1967.

On Saturday, there is going to be a moon landing celebration at the James C. Veen Observatory in Lowell.

Members of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association are welcome to attend.

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. and it will include an appearance from NASA historian Glen Swanson.

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