Apollo 1: Three Stars Commemorate a Sad Anniversary

Today (Jan. 27) is a unhappy day for NASA, imprinting a 50th anniversary of when a peep glow occurred during a launch-pad exam of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle, that was being prepared for a initial piloted flight. Astronauts Virgil we “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee mislaid their lives when a glow swept by a authority module, or “CM.”  


A scarcely 10-week review dynamic that an electrical spark, occurring in an sourroundings abounding in pristine oxygen inside a authority module, lighted a fire. The glow occurred during a early dusk hours of Jan. 27, 1967 — also a Friday — during Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34. 

The moody of Apollo 1 was to be a initial crewed idea of a Apollo program, with a ultimate idea of alighting astronauts on a moon and returning them safely to Earth. Apollo 1 was scheduled to fly on a two-week idea on Feb. 21, 1967, though a comfortless collision set America’s space module behind by some 20 months.

Today, a nation can postponement and remember these 3 drastic men who helped a United States take a initial stairs on a trail to a moon. And in this evening’s night sky, 3 stars will, in a way, offer as a decoration of those mislaid astronauts. [Remembering a Apollo 1 Fire (Infographic)]

On Jan. 27, 1967, a organisation of Apollo 1 was killed when glow engulfed their booster during a belligerent test. The disaster stalled America's competition to a moon for a year and a half. a href=http://www.space.com/14377-nasa-apollo-1-fire-disaster-explained-infographic.htmlSee how a Apollo 1 glow tragedy happened in a full infographic/a.
Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com Contributor

The stars make an suitable commemorative since of their story in a astronauts’ lessons on astronomical navigation.

The Apollo booster that eventually took group to a moon used an inertial superintendence system. This complement invariably monitored a position and quickness of a space car and, by approach of a computer, supposing maritime information or control though requiring a boat to constantly promulgate with idea control behind on Earth. One of a simple components of such a complement was a set of gyroscopes to keep a booster directed in a right direction. But, periodically, gyroscopes will drift, requiring a astronauts to perform a recalibration procession by sighting on specifically comparison stars.

NASA chose 37 maritime stars for a task, and from 1960 to 1975, a sum of 62 NASA astronauts complicated astronomical navigation during a University of North Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center during Chapel Hill.

The planetarium executive during a time, Tony Jenzano, was assured that a astronauts NASA was formulation to send into space — including Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, Alan Shepard and a crews from the Apollo lunar landings — indispensable to know a night sky usually in box a navigation systems failed. In that event, these spacefarers would have to be reliant on their possess believe and skills to land safely, Jenzano said. 

Jenzano was also obvious for carrying a devious clarity of humor. Astronaut Walter Schirra suggested in his autobiography what he described as a “wonderful con” that Jenzano and wanderer Grissom pulled off. In 1966, Grissom combined 3 new star names, and Jenzano sensitively incorporated these 3 names onto NASA’s star list though revelation anybody, observant them on existent stars: Dnoces, Navi and Regor. 

The astronauts also lerned in star marker during Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory. The planetarium executive during that time was Clarence C. Cleminshaw, a counsel who became an astronomer and assimilated a Griffith Observatory when it was in a infancy. Cleminshaw was operative on an essay about maritime stars that would eventually seem in a Sep 1967 emanate of a observatory’s monthly magazine, a Griffith Observer, and he asked Grissom for a list of a beam stars that a astronauts would use in their flights to a moon. 

Dnoces, Navi and Regor done a list. 

Cleminshaw never questioned a start of a 3 surprising monikers — and because should he? After all, it was Grissom, one of a bizarre 7 Mercury astronauts and a maestro of a Gemini space program, who supposing a star list. That fact alone was some-more than adequate to remonstrate Cleminshaw to accept a 3 names. 

And interjection to his article, other creditable publications innocently circulated a star list, in some cases even incorporating a names onto their possess star charts. Sky Telescope repository was one example. Eventually, Grissom’s 3 nonconformist stars warranted a same honour as worshiped ones like Arcturus, Regulus and Antares. 

But what did those peculiar names mount for? 

Dnoces is a word “second” spelled backward, a anxiety to wanderer Edward White. “Second” had a special definition for him on dual counts. Not usually was “second” partial of his name (Edward H. White II), though he was also a second tellurian to travel in space. Regor was Chaffee’s initial name in reverse, and Grissom motionless to spin his possess center name (Ivan) around to emanate a name Navi. All 3 stars are concurrently manifest in a stream midwinter sky for several hours, commencement from late dusk on into a early morning hours.

Dnoces is Iota (ι) Ursae Majoris, a top of a span of stars imprinting a front duke of a Great Bear constellation. The star also has a correct Arabic name, Talitha, that dates behind to around a year 500. This week, skywatchers can see this star around midnight, station roughly directly overhead, with a Big Dipper not distant behind, slanted roughly upside down high in a northeast.

Navi is in Cassiopeia, a Queen, that is roving low down in a northwest sky during around midnight. This star outlines a center of a “W” or “M” pattern shaped by a crooked quarrel of a Queen’s 5 brightest stars. Star atlases impute to a star as Gamma (γ) Cassiopeiae. Chinese astronomers referred to a constellation of Cassiopeia not as a Queen, though as a chariot driver, and Gamma gimlet a Chinese name “Tsih,” that means “the Whip.” 

Lastly, “Regor” is Gamma (γ) Velorum in a constellation of Vela, a Sails. That constellation was once partial of a many larger, despite now-defunct constellation, Argo Navis, a Ship. This star also has an Arabic name, Al Suhail al Muhlif. Admittedly, Regor is easier to remember.

In their book “Short Guide to Modern Star Names and their Derivations” (Otto Harrassowitz, 1986), authors Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart flattering many figured out what Regor stood for. Without meaningful a credentials behind a bizarre name, they wrote, “It is of capricious derivation. … maybe it is a retreat spelling of someone’s name (Roger).” 

This star is a superb double star in binoculars or a tiny telescope, though usually skims usually above a southern setting during around midnight as seen from midnorthern latitudes.

But today, now that a open knows of a loyal origins of these 3 fraudulent star names, many anxiety sources bring them as “disused or never unequivocally used.” Still, it is with a hold of unhappy irony that Grissom’s small unsentimental fun finished adult branch into an secure commemorative of sorts to himself and his dual crewmates on Apollo 1.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest techer during New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, a Farmers’ Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for Fios1 News in Rye Brook, New York. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original essay on Space.com


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