|PRICE:||$198.00 plus shipping from Spain|
|REVIEWER:||Les Dorr Jr|
Fire is a pilot's worst enemy. In a spacecraft pressurized with 16.7 PSI of pure oxygen, it was a killer.
Fresh off the success of Gemini 12 in November 1966, NASA was poised to take its next giant leap: The Apollo program that would land humans on the Moon before the end of the 1960s. The space agency tapped an elite crew to fly the first mission. Gus Grisson was the second U.S. astronaut in space in July 1961 and had commanded the first Gemini mission in March 1965. Ed White was a household name thanks to his pioneering spacewalk on Gemini 4 three months later. Roger Chaffee was a promising space rookie, one of the only members of his astronaut class chosen for a prime crew without first serving on a backup crew.
The first Apollo mission was slated for Earth orbit – a shakedown cruise for the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) combo. NASA engineers designated the spacecraft a “Block I” model, lacking many of the features planned for the “Block II” ships that would fly to the Moon and back.
Problems with a new spacecraft weren't uncommon, but this one seemed to be a real clunker. It experienced so many problems during testing that Grissom threatened to hang a lemon on it (and may actually have done so). The engineers were still addressing problems on January 27, 1967, when the crew squeezed into the command module atop a Saturn IB booster for a “Plugs Out” test. The simulation was designed to evaluate all CSM and launch vehicle systems in as near a flight configuration as practical.
Problems plagued the test. Communications were garbled, and at one point the astronauts smelled a foul, untraceable odor. Then, at 6:31 pm, one of the astronauts shouted into his microphone, “Fire! I smell fire!” A few seconds later, Ed White made the frantic, fatal call: “Fire in the cockpit!”
In the pure oxygen atmosphere, fire exploded through the spacecraft interior. Support technicians tried valiantly to reach the crew but were driven back when the command module ruptured, spouting flame and thick black smoke. By the time they were able to unseal the hatch, the astronauts were gone, suffocated by carbon monoxide fumes and burned by the raging fire.
NASA recovered from the tragedy, and incorporated wholesale changes into the CSM that produced a flawless return-to-flight Apollo 7 mission in October 1968. Over the next four years, the Apollo spacecraft carried eight crews to the Moon, and made it possible for 12 Americans to walk the satellite's rugged surface.
Space Helmet Models has been turning out high-quality resin astronaut figures in various scales for a couple years. They specialize in Apollo astronauts working on lunar terrain, but also produce figures of Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and a Russian cosmonaut in an Orlan EVA suit.
The three figures of Grissom, White and Chaffee are superbly cast in gray resin. Great detail, no bubbles. The Grissom figure is noticeably shorter than his crewmates, appropriate given Gus was only 5' 5”. All three have small, easily removed pour stubs attached to their boots.
Thirteen resin parts make up the astronauts' hose fittings and suit air conditioners. Be careful unpacking the latter, because the handles on top of the units break off easily (unless I was especially clumsy). The suit hoses appear to be made of foam rubber. The decals include a NASA patch, mission emblem, American flag and name tag for each astronaut. The clear plastic faceplates – one is a spare – are a nice touch. A section of gantry access arm walkway is enclosed if you want to use it as a base; I think it will be a tight fit posing all three figures and their equipment on there, though.
The kit instructions are a single page with color callouts for each piece of equipment and decals.
The Apollo 1 kit is admittedly pricey, but you get what you pay for. The figures will build into an impressive display, even if you're a very average figure painter (like me). In the hands of a master painter, it might well be a national contest winner.
Les Dorr Jr
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