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Fire Kills Three Apollo Astronauts
the first fatalities in America's manned space program
At about 1:00 p.m. on January 27, 1967, three astronauts and a multitude of ground personnel began a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight, the AS-204 mission. The test was plagued with problems from the beginning, with a sour odor in the air supply and communications glitches being the most prominent. Although the problems caused several delays, none of them proved serious enough to warrant a cessation of the test.
At 6:31.06 p.m. a cry of "fire in the cockpit" was heard, and all communication with the astronauts ended fifteen seconds later. Emergency personnel were on the scene almost immediately, but intense heat and thick smoke made it difficult for them to get to the astronauts. It took about five minutes for them to get the hatch open, by which time all three astronauts were dead. The first casualties of America's manned space program were Air Force Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, a veteran of Mercury and Gemini missions; Air Force Lt. Col. Edward H. White, the astronaut who had performed the first United States extravehicular activity during the Gemini program; and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roger B. Chaffee, an astronaut preparing for his first space flight.
A seven-member board led by Dr. Floyd L. Thompson conducted a comprehensive investigation to pinpoint the cause of the fire. The final report, which was completed in April 1967, said that a stray spark (probably from damaged wires near Grissom's couch) started the fire in the pure oxygen environment. Fed by flammable features such as nylon netting and foam pads, the blaze quickly spread. The report also made specific recommendations that led to major design and engineering modifications, and revisions to test planning, test discipline, manufacturing processes and procedures, and quality control.
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This page was last updated on 11/02/2017.