January 28, 2013
Remembering The Tragic Apollo 1 Disaster
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
President John F. Kennedy put the call out nearly half a decade ago that man would be reaching new heights by walking on the moon, and Sunday marked the occasion that saw the first step in that vision as the Apollo 1 crew made preparations for their mission.
On January 27, 1967 astronauts braved unknown conditions and stepped into their Apollo capsule with the goal of making preparations for future journeys to the moon. However, the mission met a tragic ending as their pre-launch test went up in flames.
Apollo 1 was scheduled to be the first manned mission of the U.S. Apollo manned lunar landing program, and it originally had a target launch date of February 21, 1967.
The January 27 launch simulation was a test to determine whether the spacecraft would operate nominally on internal power while detached from all cables and umbilicals. The test had been considered non-hazardous because neither the launch vehicle, nor the spacecraft, was loaded with fuel.
At 1:00 that afternoon, the astronauts entered the command module fully pressure-suited, and were strapped into their seats and hooked up to the spacecraft's oxygen and communication systems.
While the crew members were running through their checklist, a voltage transit was recorded. Ten seconds later, astronaut Gus Grissom reported that a fire had begun.
Just 17 seconds after the crew reported the fire, transmission ended and the crew aboard the capsule was overwhelmed by the flames.
An investigation saw that the suits of astronauts Grissom and Edward H. White II partly melted, as well as hoses connecting them to the life support system. NASA found that White had tried to open the hatch during the event, as part of emergency procedure.
Chaffee was found still strapped into his right-hand seat, sticking to a procedure that called for him to maintain communication while White attempted to open the hatch.
The tragic accident led to major design and engineering changes, and made the Apollo spacecraft safer for their eventual successful journeys to the moon.
Though the heroes, Grissom, White and Chaffee, never saw the moon up close, their braveness to be the first to take part in the Apollo missions is what led to America finding success in producing the first footsteps on our celestial neighbor.