With the first Apollo launch less than a month away, America’s race to the moon was in high gear. The three-man crew of the first Apollo test flight — commander Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee — strapped into the cockpit of their spacecraft on Jan. 27, 1967 — 50 years ago Friday — for a dress-rehearsal countdown.
Wearing bulky spacesuits, the astronauts climbed aboard at 1 p.m. for a “plugs out” test, meaning the spacecraft would be sealed and pressurized with 100 percent oxygen just as it would be during the real countdown and launch.
The Saturn 1B rocket atop pad 34 at what is now the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was not fueled for flight and the test was not considered hazardous. But almost from the start, problems cropped up triggering one delay after another.
Grissom reported a strange “sour buttermilk” odor in the oxygen flowing into his…