Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fifty Years Ago

This was engraved in a concrete walkway at Launch Complex 34. All 2011 photos courtesy Carol Smith.

My wife Carol and I went exploring Monday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Among our stops was Launch Complex 34, infamous for the death of three astronauts in the January 27, 1967 Apollo 1 fire.

This map will give you an idea of the general layout of the complex:

We parked in the lot near the launch pad. As we walked up, my wife found scrawled into the concrete the date 1-4-61.

“That's tomorrow,” she commented. Then I realized, That's fifty years ago.

By sheer serendipidity, we'd found some cement layer's handiwork one day short of the fifty-year mark.

Six years passed from that incident to the Apollo 1 fire, so I was curious what had happened in those intervening years.

According to Wikipedia, LC-34 construction began in 1960. The complex was dedicated on June 5, 1961. Its first launch, a Saturn 1 test, was on October 27, 1961. The Saturn class vehicle would one day send astronauts to the Moon.

The next manned launch after the Apollo 1 tragedy was Apollo 7 on October 11, 1968. It was the last crewed launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Apollo 8 and subsequent crewed launches were from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center.

That record should be broken later this decade, when SpaceX or United Launch Alliance or another commercial vendor launches a crewed vehicle to the International Space Station from somewhere at CCAFS.

A more thorough exploration of LC-34 awaits another day. But here are a couple photos from Monday's visit.

The concrete launch platform is all that remains of the original structure. The photo is taken from the perspective of where the “1-4-61” was scrawled fifty years ago.

Looking up through the launch platform ring.

A Saturn vehicle on LC-34. The photo on NASAImages.org is dated August 25, 1966.

The Apollo 1 crew on January 17, 1967. Left to right: Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The “1-4-61” would be on the walkway behind Grissom's right shoulder.


  1. I guess this is all worth moving away from the Angels, eh?
    Very cool stuff.

  2. Tonight, I have been doing some research into the three space exploration disasters, Challenger, Columbia, and Apollo 1. I find it strange and ironically destined that I run into this blog today 20 days after Mr. Smith visited the Apollo 1 site and just 4 days shy of the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I last explored the Apollo 1 site about 2 years ago, and plan to look for the "1-4-61" mark next time. My heart goes out to all those who's sacrifice is part of mankind's reach into space. God Speed to the remaining STS-133, 134, and now 135 crews.