Roger Chaffee never got to fly in space. Selected by NASA as a member of the space agency’s third group of astronauts—alongside future Moonwalkers Al Bean, Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott and Gene Cernan—he was the youngest of his class and in March 1966 drew his first plum flight assignment as pilot of the first manned Apollo mission. Sadly, ten months later, on the evening of 27 January 1967, he and crewmates Virgil “Gus” Grissom and America’s first spacewalker, Ed White, were killed in a flash fire aboard their Apollo 1 command module. Chaffee was three weeks shy of his 32nd birthday.
More than a half-century later, on Wednesday, 17 April, the Navy lieutenant-commander will fly in name at least to the International Space Station (ISS), when Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems—formerly Orbital ATK and, before that, Orbital Sciences Corp.—launches the NG-11 Cygnus cargo ship atop an Antares 230 booster from Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Va. Laden with 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg) of experiments, equipment and supplies for the incumbent Expedition 59 crew, the “Spaceship (SS) Roger Chaffee” will approach and berth at the space station early Friday, 19 April, with astronauts Anne McClain of NASA and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) at the controls of the 57.7-foot-long (17.6-meter) Canadarm2. Monitoring Cygnus’ systems during the approach will be fellow Expedition 59 crewman Nick Hague. According to the schedule, McClain will grapple the cargo ship at 5:30 a.m. EDT, whereupon ground controllers will command Canadarm2 to rotate and install Cygnus onto the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the station’s Unity node.