Most enter the last week of January as any other. Days begin to get longer and thoughts of spring begin formulating so long as we can dodge a few more winter storms before then. Those of us who accepted the sciences as a hobby or even career however, see this week in an entirely different light. To us, this is NASAs darkest week….that terrible week that over the course of a couple generations saw 17 Astronauts meet their ends. I will, in the next few days do my best to help us all remember them accordingly.

In the video below (there is no audio but still amazing to see) you can actually see exactly when this photo was taken at 30:37 in the video.

Apollo 1 January 27, 1967 (Photo Credit: NASA)

Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom: Member of the mercury 7 and veteran of Mercury 4 & Gemini 3 Missions.

Lt. Col. Edward H. White: 1st United Stated extravehicular activity during Gemini 4.

Roger B. Chaffee: This was to be his 1st spaceflight.

“If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” – Virgil “GUS” Grissom after the Gemini 3 mission in 1965.

January 27, 1967
Cape Canaveral – Launch Pad 34
While during a training and test exercise high atop the Saturn 1B vehicle sealed inside Command Service Module (CSM) CM-012 the crew was working as part of the AS-204 mission. Its main purpose was to prepare the Command Module for its 1st manned flight which was scheduled for Feb 21 of that year. They were conducting what is known as a “Plugs Out” Test where the crew was fully dressed out and the Command module was running completely off of its own systems.
The test was fraught with minor issues (that’s why they were testing) to include an odd smell in the oxygen lines reported by Grissom as well as astronaut induced air pressure issues with the suits. At one point a communication issue cropped up which angered Grissom to the point of saying “How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?” Prior to this day Grissom had become so frustrated with the amount of changes and the lack of ability of the simulator to keep up with those changes he had actually brought a lemon from home and hung it on the simulator. What’s more is that the crew was so concerned with the amount of flammables in the cabin that they held a meeting with Joseph Shea, then Apollo Project Manager to voice that concern. Following the meeting the crew gave Shea a photo of the three of them, hands clasped in prayer over a miniature service module with the inscription …..

“It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head.”

At 23:30:54 UTC (18:30:54 EST) electrical power momentarily failed which likely caused arcing in the interior equipment. The crew first noticed the fire approximately ten seconds later and all transmissions ended only 17 seconds after that……The crew had been lost.

The fire, as it were was determined to have had 3 main causes.
1: Faulty electrical system
2: Pure oxygen environment
3: Large amounts of flammable material in the cabin. Which Buzz Aldrin stated later that after the meeting where the flammables were removed they were placed back in before packaging and shipping to Cape Canaveral.

On April 24, 1967 at the request of the widows, Mission AS-204 was changed to Apollo-1. Which is ironically what the large elaborate label on the packaging that the Command Module arrived in was embossed with as well as the actual Mission Patches they wore.

Here’s a quote from a December 1966 interview with Gus Grissom concerning his concerns with the testing.
“You sort of have to put that out of your mind. There’s always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course; this can happen on any flight; it can happen on the last one as well as the first one. So, you just plan as best you can to take care of all the eventualities, and you get a well-trained crew and you go fly.” – Virgil “GUS” Grissom.

GODSPEED Apollo-1 ……………. RIP.

NASA Apollo 1 site: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo1info.html

NASA History Apollo 1 page: http://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/

Apollo 1 Foundation: http://www.apollo1.org/

Space Images – Apollo 1: http://www.space-images.com/photos/space-flight/apollo/1/index.html

USGS Project Apollo photo archives: http://libraryphoto.cr.usgs.gov/cgi-bin/search.cgi?search_mode=noPunct;free_form=Project%20Apollo;start=0

F.A.C.T.S. Apollo 1 Video-A: Famous crew photo taken at 30:37.

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