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Remembering The Bright Stars of the Apollo 1 Crew

On January 27, 1967, NASA experienced its first space disaster that resulted in the deaths of three astronauts. Learn how their legacy lives on in the stars.

On January 27, 1967, NASA experienced its first space disaster when a flash fire occurred in command module 012 during a training exercise for the mission Apollo/Saturn 204 (later known as Apollo 1). That fire caused the deaths of three astronauts: Edward H. White II, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee.

The Apollo spacecraft that took men to the Moon was designed to operate under inertial guidance, with gyroscopes keeping them pointed in the right direction. But because gyroscopes drift, the astronauts were tasked to recalibrate the system, sighting on selected stars.

The Mission’s Bright “Stars”

But while in training, Grissom quietly incorporated three new names onto NASA’s star list. Dnoces, Navi, and Regor were the new star names Grissom chose, which were later given the same respect as celebrated ones like Sirius, Vega, and Deneb. But what did those names stand for?

Dnoces is the word “second” spelled backward, referring to the ordinal number appended to Mr. White’s name. Navi was Grissom’s middle name (Ivan) spelled backward, and Regor was Chaffee’s first name in reverse.

Sadly, Grissom had no idea that his celestial jest would turn into a memorial to himself and his crewmates.

See the original news footage of the disaster here:

Photo of the Apollo 1 Crew courtesy of NASA.gov

Joe Rao is an astronomer and contributes regularly to the Farmers' Almanac.

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