Mayor calls for return of Apollo 1 command module; says piece of tragic memorabilia belongs in city where it was created
The Apollo 1 burst into flames during a training exercise Jan. 27, 1967, killing three astronauts during what is considered the first major tragedy of the NASA space program.
The burned module was immediately investigated, and it has been in storage ever since.
“I get in trouble sometimes because I go too big,” Brossmer said to a crowd of more than 100 people at the Downey Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City event at the Rio Hondo Event Center . “But sometimes you gotta go all in.”
If the city could display the burned-out module on its property near the Columbia Memorial Space Center, the exhibit would serve as a reminder to the community of the danger, complexity and innovation of the country’s space program, Brossmer said.
“Right now, the Apollo 1 is in a storage barn in Langley, Virginia,” Brossmer said. “Why does it belong in Downey? All of the Apollo command modules were built in Downey.”
During the accident in 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed as fire and smoke spread throughout the module. All three men suffered major burns as they were dying, according to reports at the time.
The module was designed and assembled at North American Aviation in Downey and was to be used on the first mission to the moon. The craft was plagued with problems, according to accounts from NASA. It underwent hundreds of revisions leading up to the day of the fire.
The craft endured so many corrections, the three astronauts jokingly took a photograph of them praying over a model of the module.Design flaws made it impossible for the astronauts to open the hatch to escape the fire, according to findings following the tragedy.
After the deaths, the government launched an exhaustive investigation of the crash, and the Apollo space program was put on hold.
North American eventually revised the design, and later modules proved successful, according to NASA.
The crew of Apollo 11 eventually landed on the moon in 1969.
Brossmer said he knew the topic of moving the Apollo 1 to Downey was a sensitive one, but he hoped the city could show respect to the families while still reminding the public of the craft’s role in space flight.
Scott Pomrehn, the director of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, said that, while no official plans were in place, the city would likely display the module in a separate building near the Space Center.
- Ben Baeder and Tatiana Rodriguez