9.11 Isn’t it suspicious that ten astronauts died in freak accidents?

IN A NUTSHELL: No. First of all, two of these ten astronauts had nothing to do with the Apollo project: the compilers of this death list are cooking the books. Also, being a test pilot of experimental, high-performance aircraft and spacecraft has always been dangerous and deadly. Test pilots died often, in the Fifties and Sixties, outside of the American space program as well, as witnessed by any aviation history book.

THE DETAILS: The Fox TV program Did We Land on the Moon? states that “Between 1964 and 1967, a total of ten astronauts lost their lives in freak accidents. These deaths accounted for an astonishing 15% of NASA’s astronaut corps.”

Bill Kaysing then adds that “to keep something that’s a lie wrapped up and covered over, you’ve got to eliminate all the people that can talk about it”. The implication is that these “freak accidents” were staged to keep under wraps the secret that the Apollo missions would be faked. Conspiracy theorists, here, are no longer talking about doctored photographs: they’re openly making accusations of murder.

The program shows photographs of ten men without bothering to identify them, so it takes some patient historical research to find their names and check whether they did die in freak accidents. It turns out that two of them weren’t even part of the Apollo program. Further details on these men are in the chapter Remembering the fallen, but here are the key facts.

Theodore Cordy Freeman. USAF captain, aeronautical engineer and experimental aircraft test pilot. He died in 1964, two years before the first test flight of the Apollo spacecraft and three years before the first flight of a Saturn V, in a plane crash caused by a bird strike. He had been selected as an astronaut for the Gemini and Apollo projects but was never assigned to a specific mission.

Figure 9-18. Theodore C. Freeman as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Edward Galen Givens, Jr. USAF major and test pilot, selected and trained by NASA in 1966 as an astronaut for the Apollo Applications Program, a planned series of flights that were intended to follow the first lunar landing. He was on the backup crew of Apollo 7. He died in a car accident in 1967.

Figure 9-19. Edward G. Givens, Jr. as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. USAF major and test pilot, selected in June 1967 for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory project, which intended to place military space stations in Earth orbit to perform reconnaissance of enemy territories. He died on December 8, 1967 in the crash of his F-104 trainer, flown by his student. He was not involved in the Apollo program.

Figure 9-20. Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Clifton Curtis Williams, Jr. Major of the Marines and test pilot, chosen for NASA’s third group of astronauts in 1963. He was part of the backup crew of Gemini 10 and Apollo 9. He died in 1967 when the T-38 supersonic trainer that he was flying developed a malfunction and crashed.

Figure 9-21. Clifton C. Williams, Jr. as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Elliot McKay See, Jr. US Navy engineer and test pilot, selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1962. He also supervised the design and development of spacecraft guidance and navigation systems. He had been chosen to command Gemini 9, but died on February 28, 1966 together with astronaut candidate Charles Bassett when their T-38 jet crashed during a low-visibility instrument-only landing.

Figure 9-22. Elliot M. See, Jr. as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Michael James Adams. USAF major and test pilot, selected as astronaut for the Manned Orbiting Laboratory military project. He died on November 15, 1967, when his X-15 experimental hypersonic rocket plane broke up as it was flying at five times the speed of sound. He was not involved in any way with the Apollo project.

Figure 9-23. Michael J. Adams as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Charles Arthur “Art” Bassett II. USAF captain and test pilot. Member of NASA’s third group of astronauts, selected in October 1963. He was assigned to Gemini 9 together with Elliot McKay See, but died with See on February 28, 1966, in the crash of their T-38 trainer.

Figure 9-24. Charles A. Bassett II as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying him.

Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom, Edward Higgins White, Roger Bruce Chaffee. As already described in the previous chapters of this book, these three astronauts died together in a fire on the launch pad, during a spacecraft systems test, on January 27, 1967.

Figure 9-25. Virgil I. Grissom, Ed H. White and Roger B. Chaffee as shown by the Fox TV program without identifying them.

To sum up, two of the allegedly suspicious deaths involved military astronauts (Michael James Adams and Robert Henry Lawrence) who had nothing to do with the Apollo project; four (Charles Bassett, Elliott See, Theodore Freeman and Clifton Williams) died in three accidents with T-38 supersonic training jets (they were test pilots); Ed Givens died in a car crash; and Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 fire.

Ten deaths over three years was sadly par for the course in the high-risk world of test pilots in those days, as Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff mercilessly recounts, so statistically there’s nothing particularly suspicious about these events. What is suspicious, instead, is that the Fox TV list includes two people who were not part of the Apollo project. It’s easy to create an atmosphere of mystery if you inflate the number of deaths by 20%.