Little Bits of History

Apollo I Fire

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 27, 2011

Apollo I fire damage

January 27, 1967: Disaster strikes the NASA Apollo Program. Testing for preflight began for Apollo 204, the first Apollo manned mission. The launch of Apollo I was to take place on February 21, 1967. Instead, during this preflight test, three astronauts lost their lives as fire spread through the Command Module. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee entered the Apollo at 1:00 PM on this date. It was a Friday afternoon. Problems were evident right from the start.

First, Grissom noted a “sour smell” to the oxygen when connected to the spacecraft system. The spacesuit loop was tested and Grissom elected to continue with the test. A high oxygen flow indicator would periodically trigger the master alarm. It was thought crew movement was responsible for this aberration and the crew elected to continue. There were difficulties with the communications between the crew and the control room and that problem became more widespread. This delayed the countdown which was put on hold at 5:40 PM.

At 6:31 PM, the count was about ready to pick up where it had left off. Again there was another spike in the oxygen flow. Grissom is thought to have moved slightly. Four seconds later, it is assumed Chaffee was speaking when the calm assertion was broadcast, “Fire, I smell fire.” Two seconds later, White’s voice [more insistent] broadcast, “Fire in the cockpit.” The quickest escape was theoretically possible in 90 seconds. However, it had never been accomplished in that short of a time.

Because of the cramped quarters, White’s headrest had to be lowered before he could reach above and behind his left shoulder to activate a ratchet-type device which would release the first in a series of latches. According to a source, White had managed to make almost a full turn of the ratchet before being overcome by smoke. Ground technicians ran to the trapped men, but the heat and smoke was extreme. Even at their own peril, the ship itself could explode, the technicians finally got the hatch open. It was too late. The three astronauts had died of carbon monoxide poisoning along with burns from the fire. Doctors also treated 27 of the ground crew for smoke inhalation with two of them being hospitalized. This test became known as Apollo 1. Apollo 2 and 3 were never designated and Apollo 4 was launched in November 1967.

“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.” – Aleksei Leonov

“My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.” – Edgar Mitchell

“A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.” – Taylor Wang

“To me, there is something superbly symbolic in the fact that an astronaut, sent up as assistant to a series of computers, found that he worked more accurately and more intelligently than they. Inside the capsule, man is still in charge.” – Adlai Stevenson

Also on this day:
Globetrotters – In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters played their first game.
Guy Fawkes – In1606, the Gunpowder Plot conspirators were brought to trial.


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