Roger Chaffee

Roger Chaffee 

BS aeronautical engineering ’57
Mission: Apollo 1

Roger Chaffee was just 31 years old when he and fellow astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, also a Purdue alumnus, and Ed White were killed during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission on Jan. 27, 1967.

Roger Chaffee

Roger B. Chaffee

Chaffee had been assigned as a pilot for NASA’s first scheduled three-person spaceflight, but a flash fire during a countdown demonstration test at Kennedy Space Center took the lives of the rookie astronaut and his colleagues.

NASA selected Chaffee as part of its third astronaut group in 1963 and assigned him to serve as capsule communicator (CAPCOM) for the Gemini 3 and Gemini 4 missions. In this role, he relayed information between the crew and NASA’s director of flight operations. During the Gemini 4 mission, in which White became the first American to complete a spacewalk, Chaffee shared CAPCOM duties with fellow Boilermakers Grissom and Eugene Cernan.

Chaffee attended Purdue on a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship and completed his naval training after graduating in 1957. In the Navy, he became one of the youngest pilots ever to fly the A3D twin-engine jet photo reconnaissance plane. Between 1960 and 1962 – a period that included the Cuban Missile Crisis – Chaffee flew 82 missions over Cuba and provided critical aerial imagery that documented Soviet missile buildup on the island.

In 1968, Purdue dedicated two engineering buildings to honor fallen astronauts Chaffee and Grissom, both of which are still in operation. Chaffee Hall is a library and office building near Maurice J. Zucrow Laboratories, the jet propulsion center west of Purdue Airport. Among those in attendance at the dedication ceremonies were the astronauts’ widows and parents, fellow Boilermaker astronaut Neil Armstrong, and George Mueller, NASA’s associate administrator for manned space flight, another Purdue graduate.