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House Adopts Johnson Amendment to Create Memorial to Apollo 1 Crew

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jul-2017
Updated: 15-Jul-2017 12:03 PM

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's (D-TX) effort to create a memorial to the Apollo 1 crew at Arlington National Cemetery took a step forward yesterday.  The crews of the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia are honored there, but not Apollo 1.  Her amendment to the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directing the Secretary of the Army to establish an Apollo 1 memorial there was adopted by the House.  The bill itself passed later in the day.

Fifty years ago, Virgil "Gus" Grisson, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died when fire erupted in their Apollo command module during a pre-launch test.  The test on January 27, 1967 was in advance of a planned February 21 launch of the first Apollo mission.  The cause of the fire is thought to have been a spark from an electrical wire in the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere inside the capsule, although the investigation could not conclusively identify the ignition source.  The capsule was pressurized at 16.7 pounds per square inch (psi), greater than that outside the capsule.  The hatch swung inward and the crew could not open it quickly enough to escape.


Apollo 1 crew members Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.  Photo credit:  NASA

During a tribute to the crew in January on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, Chaffee's daughter, Sheryl, movingly recounted what it was like as an 8-year-old to learn of her father's death and how it led to her own 33-year career at NASA.  She said, however, that it seems as though few remember it.

Johnson introduced a bill last year to honor the Apollo 1 crew at Arlington Cemetery in the same manner as the Challenger and Columbia crews, but it did not pass.  She reintroduced it this year.  This week, however, she proposed a slightly different version as an amendment to the NDAA (H.R. 2810).  The House approved it as part of en bloc amendment 4.

In a press statement, Johnson expressed her gratitude to the House for supporting the amendment and hope that the Senate will follow suit.  "Each of these individuals made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of a noble and inspiring goal -- the peaceful exploration of outer space.  I am grateful to all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this amendment, and I hope the Senate will join us in making the Apollo 1 memorial a reality."


Memorial to the space shuttle Challenger crew at Arlington National Cemetery.  Photo credit:  Arlington National Cemetery.


Memorial to the space shuttle Columbia crew at Arlington National Cemetery.  Photo credit: Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery is overseen by the Department of the Army.  Johnson's amendment requires the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with the NASA Administrator, to construct the memorial at "an appropriate place" in the cemetery and authorizes $50,000 for that purpose.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) has been supporting Johnson's effort.  In an emailed statement, AIA thanked Johnson, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA).   "AIA has supported Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's ... effort along with our partners at the Challenger Center. ... AIA applauds these three representatives for their leadership in moving forward the noble idea of authorizing a memorial marker honoring these American heroes."

As Johnson said, the next step is getting the Senate to agree.  The Senate's version of the FY2018 NDAA is awaiting floor action.  As reported from the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), it does not address this issue.


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