Chaffee, Roger

Roger Chaffee was an American aeronautical engineer, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and a NASA astronaut in the Apollo program. He was born Roger Bruce Chaffee on February 15, 1935 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he graduated from Central High School. In 1957 he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University. That same year, he married Martha Horn in Oklahoma City on August 24. They had two children, Sheryl Lyn and Stephen.

Chaffee was a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. One of his primary duties was to photograph Cape Canaveral. Although there have been disputes about what actually happened, it is thought that he flew the U-2 spy plane that took the pictures of Soviet missiles in Cuba. However, it was confirmed that Chaffee actually flew Navy RA3Ds during that time. He was officially recognized for his service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but his precise role in the matter is unclear.

On October 18, 1963 Chaffee was officially announced as one of 14 chosen for Astronaut Group 3 after NASA offered him a job via phone during one of Chaffee’s hunting trips. He served as a capsule communicator for the Gemini 4 mission, and also flew planes in order to take pictures of the launch of a Saturn 1B rocket. He also served as one of the pallbearers at the funeral of fellow astronaut Elliot See.

Chaffee’s first and only space mission was Apollo 1, alongside Gus Grissom and Edward White. They planned to launch on February 21, 1967; however, all three were tragically killed on January 27, 1967 when their spacecraft caught fire during a pre-launch test at Cape Kennedy. Chaffee reported the fire and stayed strapped to his seat while he relayed emergency messages and vital information to the base until he died. He is buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery. Following his death, many memorials were dedicated to him, including the crater Chaffee on the far side of the Moon, the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium in Grand Rapids, and Chaffee Hall, an engineering building at Purdue University. He was also awarded the United States Navy Air Medal, a Purple Heart, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award.