Images credit & copyright: NASA.
Most enter the last week of January as any other. Days begin to grow longer and thoughts of spring begin formulating so long as we can dodge a few more winter storms between now and then. However those of us captivated by the sciences and the space industry see this week in an entirely different light. This week we embark upon a period of remembrance of NASA’s 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.
Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom: Born April 3, 1926: Lt Col, USAF, Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4), Gemini 3 and Apollo 1.
Lt. Col. Edward H. White: Born November 14, 1930: Lt Col, USAF and was the 1st in the United Stated space program to conduct extravehicular activity (EVA) during Gemini 4.
Roger B. Chaffee: Born February 15, 1935: Lt Cmdr. U.S. Navy. 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: As the three man crew worked through a training exercise high atop the Saturn 1B vehicle (SA-204) sealed inside Command Service Module (CSM) CM-012 (AS-204) in preparation of the first crewed mission in the Apollo era, all seemed to be progressing however slowly, toward success. The main purpose of the test was to prepare the Command Module for its 1st manned flight which was scheduled for Feb 21 of that year. This type of test is what is known as a “Plugs Out” test where the crew was fully dressed out and the command module was running completely off 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?”
What’s more is that the crew was so concerned with the amount of flammables in the cabin that on August 19, 1966, just a week before delivery of the capsule to Kennedy Space Center, they held a meeting with Joseph Shea, then Apollo Project Manager to voice that very 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.”
CM-012 was delivered to Kennedy Space Center on August 26, 1966 under a conditional flight worthiness certificate. However even after delivery 623 engineering change orders had to be made as well as 113 incomplete engineering changes. This wasn’t the first time that the patience of the crew had been tested. Prior to this day Grissom had become so frustrated with the number of changes as well as the lack of ability of the simulator to keep up with those changes he had actually brought a lemon from a tree at his home and hung it on the simulator to say the craft was a lemon.
At 23:30:54 UTC (18:30:54 EST) during the plugs out test electrical power momentarily failed which likely caused arcing to the interior equipment. The crew first noticed the fire approximately ten seconds later as Chaffee was heard yelling “HEY!” Two seconds later White yelled “I’ve got a fire in the cockpit!” a few more brief transmissions were heard along with the sound of the hull of the spacecraft itself rupturing from the pressure. All transmissions ended only 17 seconds after the first report of fire……The crew of Apollo 1 had been lost.
The fire, as it would be determined, had 3 main causes.
1: Faulty electrical system
2: Pure oxygen environment
3: Large amounts of flammable material in the cabin. Buzz Aldrin later stated that after the meeting with Shea, he gave the order to have the flammables removed but did’t oversee the order personally and they were later placed back in before packaging and shipping to Cape Canaveral.
On April 24, 1967 at the request of the widows, Mission AS-204 was officially changed to Apollo-1 as the three astronauts themselves called the mission.
“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.
Through Hardship to the Stars…………..
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
Apollo Archive: http://www.apolloarchive.com/apollo_gallery.html
Apollo Archive Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/projectapolloarchive/albums
Apollo Flight Journal: https://history.nasa.gov/afj/index.htm
NASA Spaceflight: https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/apollo/apollo1/ndxpage1.html
Apollo Image Atlas: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/resources/apollo/catalog/70mm/
Apollo Images: http://apolloimages.photoshelter.com/index