While searching for an image of the Apollo 1 crew to post today, the anniversary of their loss, for the first time I came upon images of what remained of their burned spacesuits. Although the crew's remains had been removed, it was graphic, upsetting, and gruesome. And real.
This happened. It didn't happen in the distant past and it's not that there isn't a lot of historical data on the matter. But most are completely unfamiliar with the event, despite the fact that it resulted in the first loss of astronaut life in the United States. A nation already numbed by the assassination of JFK and weary of increasing violence--and there was worse yet to come--was slowly beginning to bear national tragedy as The Way Things Are Going To Be Now.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle included a brief mention of the fire today under its "This Forgotten Day in Houston" blog, alongside "Worst Sam Houston Movie Ever?" and "'75 Oilers Name Bum Phillips Head Coach."
There are no iconic photos of the fire. A Google image search mostly turns up photos of the crew or the blackened test capsule. The designation "Apollo 1" was placed after it happened-- the test block had no name beyond "Apollo 204." It wasn't broadcast live and there's no vault of civilian photos. Some newspapers, with devastating irony, ran photos of what the capsule would have looked at in launch configuration, raised high over the pad and ready for action.Given the avalanche of imagery accompanying the losses of Challenger and Columbia, we have no societal memory hook on which to hang the losses of Gus Grissomm, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
And... that's best, I think. In a tragedy in which coroners couldn't determine how much loss of life came from carbon monoxide asphyxia and how much came from the fire itself, I really do think that's best.
And so I leave this blank space here in place of those images in the hopes that you will pause and remember their sacrifice.