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September 19, 2007

Lunar sample to land on Purdue campus

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A piece of the moon will find a home at Purdue University on Oct. 6 thanks to the widow of astronaut and Purdue alumnus Roger Chaffee.

The sample, on long-term loan from NASA, will be presented during the halftime show of the Purdue-Ohio State football game at Ross-Ade Stadium. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. It will be on public display in Purdue's Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

Martha Chaffee
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Martha Chaffee, who was a student in Purdue's radio and television program in the 1950s, is acquiring the rock through NASA's Ambassadors of Exploration program. The NASA program allows each astronaut or his survivor - from the Gemini, Apollo and Mercury programs - the right to donate to the educational institution of his or her choice a piece of the 842 pounds of moon rocks and soil collected during six lunar missions.

The sample coming to Purdue was collected during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission commanded by Eugene Cernan, a 1956 Purdue alumnus and the last astronaut to walk on the moon. The sample will be displayed in a case about 4 inches tall by 3 inches in diameter. It weighs approximately 2 grams, or roughly as much as two U.S. dollar bills.

Roger Chaffee
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Roger Chaffee earned his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Purdue in 1957. He was killed in 1967, along with Purdue alumnus Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Ed White, in a fire during training for NASA's first Apollo mission.

Purdue President France A. Córdova said Martha Chaffee's gift honors the legacy of Roger Chaffee and all those who pursue new discoveries.

"I want to extend my gratitude to Martha Chaffee for her gracious and thoughtful gift and for choosing Purdue to display this piece of the moon," Córdova said. "It will inspire our students and is a tribute to those who paved the way for us."

Martha Chaffee said giving the lunar sample to Purdue was a natural choice.

"Roger and I met at Purdue when we were young students, so this seemed like the best place to display it," she said. "Perhaps it will inspire other young students to dream of space as he did."

The Purdue University "All-American" Marching Band will pay tribute to Purdue graduates who pursued careers in space with a halftime show titled "The Right Stuff." Included in the performance will be the theme song of the 1983 film of the same name, which depicted the story of the original "Mercury seven" U.S. astronauts.

Other songs planned for the occasion include Michael Bublé's "Moondance," the Bobby Darin hit "Once in a Lifetime" and the theme from "Apollo 13."

After the presentation, the lunar sample will be moved to the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. A curving 50-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling" exhibitry" near the first-floor atrium will house a photomural of Chaffee's life. The sample will be displayed in the center of the mural.

The Chaffee mural will be on display for about a year. A replica of the Apollo 1 command module identical to the one in which Chaffee died also will hang in the building's atrium. The replica is being loaned to Purdue by the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

The lunar sample will remain on long-term loan from NASA in this location.

NASA selected Chaffee, a U.S. Navy pilot with the rank of lieutenant commander, in 1963 as one of 14 men in its third group of astronauts. On March 21, 1966, Chaffee was chosen to pilot the first flight of the first Apollo moon program.

The Chaffee Crater, located on the far side of the moon, is named in his honor. Chaffee Hill, on Mars, is one of three hills named for the Apollo 1 crew near the Gusev landing site of the Spirit Rover.

President Bill Clinton awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously in 1997 to Chaffee, White and Grissom. The award coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster.

Martha Chaffee said she and her family are pleased that the lunar sample will be on public display at Purdue.

"With our ties to the university and Purdue's strong connections to NASA and space exploration, there was no question that Purdue was the right place for the sample," she said. "I hope future students - and who knows, perhaps future astronauts - will enjoy it."

Writer: Tanya Brown, (765) 494-2079,

Source: Amy Noah, (765) 494-6490,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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