By Edgar D. Mitchell, Dwight Arnan Williams
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But more importantly, I began to see the larger project as but a sequence in the natural progression of civilization, which would eventually take us into the cosmos at large. NASA and its individual members were a part of the evolutionary process of humankind, a significant cog in the machine that would take us to other worlds. The people around me would be the first of our species to explore these new landscapes; Ed, Roger, and Gus were a part of this process as well, even in death. Though the idea was conceived for political advantage, going to the moon seemed fundamental in making the next step in discovering more about ourselves and the universe.
That day we had another flawless launch, another flawless translunar injection burn, and three of my friends were apparently headed for a full-up mission. Both the crew on the ground and the crew in space had this space travel thing down. For three days I listened to the happy progress on the headset as I sat before the console at mission control in Houston. The brilliant telemetry on the monitor before me showed all systems working in lovely harmony. Then one of the astronauts reported a strange, muffled “boom” coming from the service module.
I knew no reason why anyone would need to get in touch with me at an airport. When I got to a phone it was Deke Slayton’s office in Houston telling me of a fire in the command module at the Cape. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were dead. A fire had swept through their capsule as it sat on top of the stack on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy. Three of America’s astronauts had burned to death. Forever after, this would be known as The Fire. But beyond the realm of personal loss, there was still a momentous task at hand.