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Roger Chaffee 1935-1967

Country : Grand Rapids, Michigan
Profession : Astronaut
Date of birth : 1935-02-15
Date of death : 1967-01-27
Cause of Death : Accident

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Roger Bruce Chaffee (February 15, 1935 – January 27, 1967) was a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and a NASA astronaut in the Apollo program. Chaffee was killed during the Apollo 1 training exercise tragedy, along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart and the United States Navy Air Medal.

Early years

Roger Bruce Chaffee was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, attended Illinois Institute of Technology and earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1957. He married Martha Horn in Oklahoma City on August 24, 1957. They had two children, Sheryl Lyn and Stephen. Chaffee was an Eagle Scout and a member of Phi Kappa Sigma. In 1962 he received a master of science degree at Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio.

Military and NASA career

Chaffee was a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. One of his duties in the early 1960s was to photograph Cape Canaveral. In the book Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon, it is claimed that he flew the U-2 spyplane 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 Navy RA3Ds (a reconnaissance version of the carrier-based Douglas Skywarrior nuclear bomber). He was officially recognized for his service during the Cuban Missile Crisis but his exact role is unclear and it is unknown if he actually flew over Cuba.

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 a job. On October 18, 1963 he was officially announced as one of 14 chosen in the third group of astronauts. He and served as one of the capsule communicators, along with Gus Grissom and Gene Cernan, for the Gemini 4 mission, piloted by Ed White. He was also paired with Grissom to fly chase planes in order to take pictures of the launch of an unmanned Saturn 1B rocket. Chaffee served as one of the pallbearers for fellow astronaut Elliot See. Apollo 1 was to be his first spaceflight. He served as the lunar module pilot for the mission even though the mission carried no lunar lander.


Chaffee died along with fellow astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Edward White in the Apollo 1 fire at Cape Kennedy. It was Roger who first reported the fire to the staff at the block house during a standard pre-launch test. During the 8 seconds that the fire raged, Chaffee stayed strapped to his seat and continued to relay emergency messages and vital information to the blockhouse while his two crewmates tried in vain to open the hatch. Chaffee and Grissom are both buried in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetery, while White is buried at West Point Cemetery.


  • 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 named "Regor" ("Roger" spelled backwards) in his honor.
  • Island Chaffee, an artificial island in San Pedro Bay off Southern California.
  • Chaffee is remembered in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium is named after him, as well as a boulevard in an industrial park (Roger B. Chaffee Memorial Drive 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.
  • Roger Chaffee Street in El Paso, Texas.


  • 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 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 Bermudan government and is now named Clearwater Middle School.


  • United States Navy Air Medal (posthumous)
  • Purple Heart (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.

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