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Lt. Cdr. Roger B. Chaffee, USN, Retired

Roger Bruce Chaffee


Lt. Cdr. Roger B. Chaffee was born February 15, 1935, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Introduced to aviation by his father, a former barnstorming pilot, Chaffee's early interests were model airplanes and science. Graduating from high school in 1953 with his sights on an engineering career, he entered the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp (NROTC) at Illinois Institute of Technology, later transferring to Purdue University from which he received a degree in aeronautical engineering. It was here, in his last semester, he began flying.

Completing Navy flight training in 1959, he received assignment in the overhaul and repair of the A3D twin-engine jet photo reconnaissance plane and became one of the youngest pilots ever to fly in the A3D. Aerial flights taken during his flights over Florida's Cape Canaveral and Cuba were later used to map the area which became the launching center for the United States space program and to prove the existence of Russian missile bases in Cuba.

Chaffee was accepted in October, 1963, as one of the 14 people in the third group of astronauts in the United States space program. After completing training, he was selected for the first manned flight of the Apollo project in NASA's effort to progress toward the goal of landing a man on the moon by 1969. A tragic loss, he died on January 27, 1967, with two other astronauts, when the Apollo I spacecraft caught fire on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Florida.

A Navy pilot with more than 2200 flying hours, mostly in jets, Chaffee was awarded the Navy Air Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
Chaffee was enshrined on October 22, 1994 for his contributions to the United States as a pilot, engineer, and astronaut. He is noted for his leadership and dedication to the advancement of the United States space program.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program