After Hours

Geek Trivia: What Apollo 1 practical joke became unofficial NASA policy after the loss of that mission's crew?

An Apollo 1 practical joke became unofficial NASA policy following that mission's fatal accident, in part as a memorial to the astronauts, and in part because it was a good idea.

Every Apollo astronaut knew the code phrases Navi, Dnoces, and Regor, which refer to the stars Gamma Cassiopeiae, Iota Ursa Majoris, and Gamma Velorum, respectively. This trio of stars was (and likely is) used for visual reference during spaceflight, and was a core component of Apollo mission training for inertial navigation procedures. Put simply, the Apollo astronauts employed some pretty old-school sextant-style instruments to align their spacecraft to keep it on course — and as a calibration for, and fallback against the failure of, more sophisticated instruments. The codephrases made callouts of those stars simpler and more reliable during radio communications.

Of course, those two-syllable codenames were dreamed up as a practical joke by the Apollo 1 crew.

Navi is Gus Grissom's middle name, Ivan, spelled backwards. Dnoces is the word second spelled backwards, in reference to astronaut White's full name, Edward H. White II. Regor is Roger Chaffee's first name spelled backwards.

Despite their snarky origins, Navi, Dnoces, and Regor stayed in the Apollo lexicon as an insiders' tribute to the first three Apollo astronauts who gave their lives in service to NASA, the United States, and — above all — human discovery. While far from the first, last, or only tribute to Apollo 1, it is among the most fitting and sincere, as it came from Grissom, White, and Chaffee's fellow astronauts and space program teammates.

That's not just an immeasurably moving memorial, it's an eloquently apropos addition to Geek Trivia.

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About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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