NASA’s Apollo Blues

* The original seven pilots were culled from a batch of military test pilots that had the “Right Stuff”.

* Before the first Apollo manned flight ever cleared theĀ  launching pad, eleven astronauts died in accidents. Grissom, Chaffee, and White were cremated in an Apollo capsule test on the launching pad during a completely and suspiciously unnecessary test. Seven died in six air crashes: Freemen, Basset and See, Rogers, Williams, Adams and Lawrence. Givens was killed in a car crash.

* When you reflect on their deaths in the light of the three-man-instant crematorium one wonders. Add the fact that there were eight deaths in 1967 alone. One wonders if these “accidents” weren’t NASA’s way of correcting mistakes and saying that some of these men really didn’t have the “Right Stuff”.

* After 1967, only Taylor died in another plane crash in 1970. An actuarial statistician would probably go berserk over these numbers considering how small the group was. Another weighty factor, even though they were “hot pilots”, the astronauts flew their trainer jets only part time. And add to that the fact that trainers are usually inherently safer than other planes in the same class. It would raise his eyebrows to find how few of these men would never enter space. One can’t help wonder what technicians serviced their ships; because what we have here is an appalling “accident” rate. They were the finest professional pilots in the world, operating government planes where costs have little meaning. Yet they died. Even if we call the cremation an “accident” we still have five more deaths in one year. Very interesting! What was the death rate among the other NASA employees who were in position to know too much?

* North American Rockwell’s first Apollo capsule had been delivered and accepted by NASA in August 66, with a flight date set for November. But time after time the date had to be reset because of problems with the craft. Grissom, a veteran of two test flights in Mercury and Gemini, normally quiet and easy-going ,a flight pro, could not hide his irritation. “Pretty slim” was the way he put Apollo’s chance of meeting its mission requirements.

* Grissom had a sense of unease about this flight. He told his wife, Betty, “If there ever is a serious accident in the space program, it’s likely to be me”. Early in January 67, Grissom, probably unaware that NASA had other internal critics, hung a lemon on the Apollo capsule. He was threatening to go public with his complaints. He was already a popular celebrity, especially with the press. He would have had no problem in getting his story out. In a case like this even NASA’s censors would have little control over the news. Headlines like “Popular Astronaut Rips Into NASA!!” couldn’t be easily squelched.



  • Which supports and barriers were in play?

  • What were the dynamics?

  • Who, or What, won the Tug-of-War?

  • Discuss the outcome with your friends and family.

  • Use Post #4 as a reference for the dynamics, and the relationships, between supports and barriers.