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Top Rules When Traveling To or From Planet Earth: - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Top Rules When Traveling To or From Planet Earth:

* Do not wear a red shirt.

* Make sure the rock you're standing on is not alive.

* Try not to be a blue whale or a bowl of petunias.

And above all,

* Avoid launch dates during the last week of January.

Two historical reasons for that advice were commemorated today and yesterday, on the 30th and 49th anniversaries of their tragic occurrences. Both have Buffalo connections, however tenuous.

January 27, 1967 was the dress rehearsal for the launch of Apollo 1. The three astronauts inside- Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee- never made it into orbit or out alive.  Grissom was one of the Original Seven and a veteran of one of the two-man Gemini missions. White had also flown a Gemini craft, becoming the first American to walk in space while Jim McDivitt, later to command Apollo 9, minded their rather small store.  Chaffee had never gone up before.

The tragedy delayed further manned Apollo missions for almost two years before Apollo 7 launched successfully in the fall of 1968. The rest you more-or-less know.  The three deceased astronauts were memorialized all over the nation, although not given Congressional medals until Jimmy Carter awarded one to Grissom in 1978. The other two had to wait for Bill Clinton to do it in 1997.  Yet among the components of their legacy are a strange set of streets about five miles from here.  Every time I take Niagara Falls Boulevard north to its eponymous northern terminus city, I pass two of them:

Indeed, there's a story behind those signs:

About five years after the tragedy in the early 1970s, Dick Brox and some members of the Amherst planning department were sitting around having lunch one day and, given Western New York's great aviation history, they thought about naming some streets in the town's new industrial parks after some pioneers of flight.

Dick Brox: "We named John Glenn, we named Amelia Earhart, and we named Curtis Wright and one of the guys said maybe we should name streets for the three astronauts who died in the fire."

But rather than honor the astronauts with signs in an industrial park, they decided instead to pick streets off of Niagara Falls Boulevard.

Dick Brox: "So by putting the three names on the Boulevard, people driving by everyday would see the astronauts names, they might wonder why, who were these guys?"

The men then took the idea to the town planning board.

Dick Brox: "They thought it was a good idea, honoring the various aviation pioneers and then the astronauts who had died in the Apollo One mishap."

And so that's how three consecutive streets off of Niagara Falls Boulevard just north of the 290, came to be named for Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White.

Yet Virgil had no Aenid to connect to the Boulevard- it's Draden Lane to the south of the two, and the tackily named Classics V Boulevard (after the banquet joint of that name) to the north.  Gus, sadly, got stuck in the back:

But then in 1991, the town abandoned the street when no homes were built on it, and the Grissom sign was taken down.

It's a homeless stub street, dead-ending behind the barrier keeping Home Depot traffic out of the neighborhood.  Although map software will still find it if you enter Grissom's name, it appears to the naked eye as a continuation of a longer street in this 20th Century Dead Guys subdivision:

That's not named for the Senator With No Decency, but for an even older Joe, a former Buffalo Bison ballplayer, who managed the Yankees in the 30s and 40s, and who somehow lived until 1978, the same year Gus got his Congressional medal.

Tailgunner Joe, presumably, is on a list of names someplace.


That was 1967. I vaguely remember the disaster; it didn't have the crepe-hanging national impact of John F. Kennedy's death a few years earlier or those of the ones to come in '68, and it's amazing that we met JFK's ambitious "before this deCADE is out" challenge despite the 20-month delay.

Ah, Challenges.

Fast-forward to the last week of January, 1986.  This one, I know exactly where I was: in Nate Relin's former office (the then-recently deceased co-founder of the original firm I'd joined a little over a year before), watching a very small black-and-white set, showing something very small, tracking across a very big sky.

Shuttle flights had become largely meh by then. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, launch, rinse, repeat. Oh, what, there's an Atlantis now? That's nice. When are they going to send Enterprise up? We have MOVIES to script, dammit!

And then, this.  With the Teacher in Space and Resnick the real woman astronaut and, shitshitshitshit....

More sadness. More delays. And yet, somehow, a flag:

Gregory Jarvis was supposed to come back to campus – along with the flag.

When the payload specialist lifted off on board the Challenger, 30 years ago on Thursday, the 1967 University of Buffalo graduate took with him a UB flag.

The Challenger’s fate – the space shuttle exploded slightly more than a minute after takeoff, killing Jarvis and six other crew members – remains etched in the nation’s history.

His death meant he would not return to UB to present the school flag he took on the mission.

Now, the flag – its cobalt and white colors still vibrant, its gold fringe intact – rests in the archives at UB’s North Campus in Amherst.

Here's where I did my first HUH?!?  We saw that ship explode. Nothing but a white trail across the sky. Right?

Wrong.  But it took commenters on the story (yes, I'm breaking my Don't Read Them resolution here) to clear it up, linking to the Wiki on the disaster:

The crew cabin, made of reinforced aluminum, was a particularly robust section of the shuttle. During vehicle breakup, it detached in one piece and slowly tumbled into a ballistic arc. NASA estimated the load factor at separation to be between 12 and 20 g; within two seconds it had already dropped to below 4 g and within 10 seconds the cabin was in free fall. The forces involved at this stage were likely insufficient to cause major injury.

The later stages, obviously, were; you can read the Wikipiece if you want the gruesome details.  But it explains why things like the UB flag were ultimately recovered:

Marcia Jarvis returned the flag from the shuttle flight to UB in October 1987.

An academic building on the North Campus, used by engineering students, was renamed Jarvis Hall at the time.

The flag rests in protective storage in the University Archives in Capen Hall.

The flag bears a UB insignia, with a buffalo, the letters “UB” and the date 1846.

The flag is kept in the archives instead of on public display for preservation purposes, said William Offhaus, senior staff assistant at the University Archives.

Before the program ended, Columbia joined the parade of tragedy; that was another second-half-of-January launch. We now may have been set back past the point of no takeoff, never mind return; Zephram Cochrane's due to be born in a mere fourteen years, and Captain Archer's Enterprise had damn better get out of spacedock on schedule in 2151.

But not until April, thank gods.

3 comments or Leave a comment
thanatos_kalos From: thanatos_kalos Date: January 29th, 2016 03:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, memories...I lived on Joe McCarthy for quite some time. :)
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: January 29th, 2016 10:12 am (UTC) (Link)
When I loaded Google Earth to get those screencaps of the signs, it displayed maybe a half dozen specific properties from the neighborhood along the bottom.

One of them was your old house on Peppertree.

Good to know it hasn't been crashed into and knocked to the ground by some drunk missing the curve.
thanatos_kalos From: thanatos_kalos Date: January 29th, 2016 10:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually, a couple of years after we moved away, the roof caved in after heavy snow. :P So, not quite as bad as some idiot hydroplaning, but still very expensive!
3 comments or Leave a comment