Astronaut Roger Bruce Chaffee was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on this day. Chaffee graduated from high school in 1953 with his sights on an engineering career. In pursuit of this goal, he entered the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp (NROTC) at Illinois Institute of Technology and later transferred to Purdue University and received a degree in aeronautical engineering. It was here, in his last semester, he began flying.
Chaffee completed Naval flight training in 1959. He then received assignment in the overhaul and repair of the A3D twin-engine jet photo reconnaissance plane and became one of the youngest pilots ever to fly the A3D. Aerial photographs taken during his flights over Florida’s Cape Canaveral and Cuba were later used to map the area which became the launching center for the United States space program and to prove the existence of Russian missile bases in Cuba.
In October of 1963, Chaffee was accepted as one of fourteen people in the third group of astronauts in the United States space program. After completing training, he was selected for the first manned flight of the Apollo project in NASA’s effort to progress toward the goal of landing a man on the moon by 1969.
A tragic loss, he died on January 27, 1967, with two other astronauts, when the Apollo I spacecraft caught fire on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Florida.
Chaffee was awarded the Navy Air Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal. He will always be remembered as a pioneering American engineer, scientist, pilot, and astronaut.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum includes the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium. The Planetarium is complete with the latest Digistar 5 projection equipment and software, producing high-definition imagery and incredible special effects, accompanied by high-powered digital sound. Seasonal sky shows and themed productions educate visitors of all ages about the solar system, stars, and our place in the universe.
Source : Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.