During the 1960s the United States possessed a remarkable record of success in its human space flight missions. In a highly risky enterprise, NASA and the country endured only one searing tragedy. On January 27, 1967 the astronaut crew selected for the first piloted Apollo mission were in their spacecraft on Launch Complex 34. They were participating in a practice countdown for an Earth-orbit mission scheduled to start several weeks later. At 6:31 p.m., EST, fire developed in the Apollo command module and the three astronauts died by asphyxiation:
Virgil I. Grissom
Edward H. White II
Roger B. Chaffee
In the wake of the fire, NASA introduced new safety features to improve protection of the astronauts.
"If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."--Virgil I. Grissom, after the Gemini 3 mission, March 1965
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