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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.

The heat generated by the fire inside the capsule was so intense that it caused the capsule wall to fail and rupture.
Apollo 1 capsule after the fire

The interior of the capsule after removal of the astronauts' bodies.
inside the capsule

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.

SOURCES
NASA History
history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/
National Air and Space Museum
airandspace.si.edu
Space.com
www.space.com/17338-apollo-1.html

SEE ALSO
Virgil I. Grissom
Edward H. White
Roger B. Chaffee

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The Robinson Library >> Technology >> Astronautics >> History

This page was last updated on 05/27/2017.