Roger B. Chaffee was born February 15, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His father was a former barnstorming pilot and Roger became fascinated with flight after his first airplane ride at the age of seven. He graduated from Central High School in Grand Rapids in 1953 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in 1957.
Roger Chaffee entered the Navy in 1957, serving as safety officer and quality control officer for Heavy Photographic Squadron 62 at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida. In January 1963, he attended the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to work on a Master of Science Degree in Reliability Engineering. During his Navy career, he logged more than 2,300 hours flying time including more than 2,000 hours in jet aircraft.
Lieutenant Commander Chaffee was a member of the third group of astronauts selected by NASA, in October 1963. In addition to participating in the overall training program, he also worked on flight control communications, instrumentation systems, and attitude and translation control systems in the Apollo Branch of the Astronaut Office.
On March 21, 1966, he was named Pilot on the first Apollo mission, America’s inaugural three-man spaceflight. Virgil “Gus” Grissom would be Commander and Edward White the Senior Pilot for the two-week mission that was originally called AS-204 (‘AS’ for the Apollo spacecraft that would be launched by the new Saturn rocket).
After months of modifications to the Apollo command module, the three entered the capsule for a lengthy “plugs-out” test at Kennedy Space Center on January 27, 1967. Chaffee was responsible for external communications during the grueling procedure. Hours into the test, a spark ignited the pure oxygen in the spacecraft into a deadly flash fire. Roger Chaffee, the astronaut who would never enter outer space, proved his character by remaining at his station, sending emergency messages in a vain effort to save his crewmates.
Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee died on January 27, 1967, along with Grissom and White; their doomed mission would be renamed Apollo 1 at the request of Grissom’s widow. In 1997 Roger Chaffee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, along with his crewmate Edward White (Grissom was given the award posthumously in 1978). Chaffee Crater on the far side of the Moon is named in his honor.