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Apollo 1

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Apollo 1

Apollo 1 (also AS-204)
Grissom, White, and Chaffee pose in front of their Apollo/Saturn IB space vehicle on the launch pad, ten days before a cabin fire that claimed their lives
Mission type Crewed spacecraft verification test
Operator NASA
Mission duration Up to 14 days (planned)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft CSM-012
Spacecraft type Apollo Command/Service Module, Block I
Manufacturer North American Aviation
Launch mass 20,000 kilograms (45,000 lb)
Crew size 3
Members Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Command Pilot
Edward H. White, Senior Pilot
Roger Chaffee, Pilot
Start of mission
Launch date February 21, 1967 (planned)
Rocket Saturn IB AS-204
Launch site Cape Canaveral LC-34
End of mission
Destroyed January 27, 1967 (1967-01-27)
23:31:19 UTC
Orbital parameters
Reference system Geocentric
Regime Low Earth orbit
Perigee 220 kilometers (120 nmi) (planned)
Apogee 300 kilometers (160 nmi) (planned)
Inclination 31 degrees (planned)
Period 89.7 minutes (planned)

Left to right: White, Grissom, Chaffee

Apollo program
← AS-202 Apollo 4

Apollo 1 (initially designated AS-204) was the first manned mission of the U.S. Apollo manned lunar landing program.[1] The planned low Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command/Service Module never made its target launch date of February 21, 1967, because a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the Command Module (CM).[1] The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially retired by NASA in commemoration of them on April 24, 1967.[1]

Immediately after the fire, NASA convened the Apollo 204 Accident Review Board to determine the cause of the fire, and both houses of the United States Congress launched their own committee inquiries to oversee NASA's investigation. During the investigation, a NASA internal document citing problems with prime Apollo contractor North American Aviation was publicly revealed by then-Senator Walter F. Mondale, and became known as the "Phillips Report", embarrassing NASA Administrator James E. Webb, who was unaware of the document's existence, and attracting controversy to the Apollo program. Despite congressional displeasure at NASA's lack of openness, both congressional committees ruled that the issues raised in the report had no bearing on the accident, and allowed NASA to continue with the program.

Although the ignition source could not be conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal design and construction flaws in the early Apollo Command Module. Manned Apollo flights were suspended for 20 months while these problems were corrected. The Saturn IB launch vehicle, SA-204, scheduled for use on this mission, was later used for the first unmanned Lunar Module (LM) test flight, Apollo 5.[2] The first successful manned Apollo mission was flown by Apollo 1's backup crew on Apollo 7 in October 1968.


Position Astronaut
Command Pilot Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom
Senior Pilot Edward H. White II
Pilot Roger B. Chaffee
Grissom, Chaffee and White participate in Apollo 1 water egress training, June 1966

First backup crew (April – December 1966)

Position Astronaut
Command Pilot James A. McDivitt
Senior Pilot David R. Scott
Pilot Russell L. "Rusty" Schweickart
This crew flew on Apollo 9.

Second backup crew (December 1966 – January 1967)

Position Astronaut
Command Pilot Walter M. "Wally" Schirra
Senior Pilot Donn F. Eisele
Pilot R. Walter Cunningham
This crew flew on Apollo 7.

Mission background

Official portrait of prime and backup crews for AS-204, as of April 1, 1966. The backup crew (standing) of McDivitt (center), Scott (left) and Schweickart were replaced by Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham in December 1966.

AS-204 was to be the first manned test flight of the Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) to Earth orbit, launched on a Saturn IB rocket. AS-204 was to test launch operations, ground tracking and control facilities and the performance of the Apollo-Saturn launch assembly and would have lasted up to two weeks, depending on how the spacecraft performed.[3]

The CSM for this flight, number 012 built by North American Aviation (NAA), was a Block I version designed before the lunar orbit rendezvous landing strategy was chosen; therefore it lacked capability of docking with the Lunar Module. This was incorporated into the Block II CSM design, along with lessons learned in Block I. Block II would be test-flown with the LM when the latter was ready, and would be used on the Moon landing flights.

Deke Slayton, the Mercury astronaut who was grounded and became Director of Flight Crew Operations, selected the first Apollo crew in January 1966, with Grissom as Command Pilot, White as Senior Pilot, and rookie Donn F. Eisele as Pilot. But Eisele dislocated his shoulder twice aboard the KC135 weightlessness training aircraft, and had to undergo surgery on January 27. Slayton replaced him with Chaffee,[4] and NASA announced the crew selection on March 21, 1966. James McDivitt, David Scott and Russell Schweickart were named as the backup crew. On September 29, Walter Schirra, Eisele, and Walter Cunningham were named as the prime crew for a second Block I CSM flight, AS-205. NASA planned to follow this with an unmanned test flight of the LM (AS-206), then the third manned mission would be a dual flight designated AS-278 (or AS-207/208), in which AS-207 would launch the first manned Block II CSM, which would then rendezvous and dock with the LM launched unmanned on AS-208.

In March, NASA was studying the possibility of flying the first Apollo mission as a joint space rendezvous with the final Project Gemini mission, Gemini 12 in November 1966.[5] But by May, delays in making Apollo ready for flight just by itself, and the extra time needed to incorporate compatibility with the Gemini, made that impractical.[6] This became moot when slippage in readiness of the AS-204 spacecraft caused the last-quarter 1966 target date to be missed, and the mission was rescheduled for February 21, 1967.[7] Grissom was resolved to keep his craft in orbit for a full 14 days if there was any way to do so.

Command Module 012, labeled Apollo One, arrives at Kennedy Space Center, August 26, 1966

A newspaper article published on August 4, 1966, referred to the flight as "Apollo 1".[8] CM-012 arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on August 26, labeled Apollo One by NAA on its packaging.

In October 1966, NASA announced the flight would carry a small television camera to broadcast live from the Command Module. The camera would also be used to allow flight controllers to monitor the spacecraft's instrument panel in flight.[9] Television cameras were carried aboard all manned Apollo missions.

Chaffee, White, and Grissom training in a simulator of their Command Module cabin, January 19, 1967

By December 1966, the second Block I flight AS-205 was canceled as unnecessary; and Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham were reassigned as the backup crew for Apollo 1. McDivitt's crew was now promoted to prime crew of the Block II / LM mission, re-designated AS-258 because the AS-205 launch vehicle would be used in place of AS-207. A third manned mission was planned to launch the CSM and LM together on a Saturn V (AS-503) to an elliptical medium Earth orbit (MEO), to be crewed by Frank Borman, Michael Collins and William Anders. McDivitt, Scott and Schweickart had started their training for AS-258 in CM-101 at the NAA plant in Downey, California, when the Apollo 1 accident occurred.

Mission insignia

Apollo 1 Fliteline medallion (later flown on Apollo 9 by Jim McDivitt).

Grissom's crew received approval in June 1966 to design a mission patch with the name Apollo 1. The design's center depicts a Command/Service Module flying over the southeastern United States with Florida (the launch point) prominent. The Moon is seen in the distance, symbolic of the eventual program goal. A yellow border carries the mission and astronaut names with another border set with stars and stripes, trimmed in gold. The insignia was designed by the crew, with the artwork done by North American Aviation employee Allen Stevens.[10][11]

Spacecraft problems

The Apollo 1 crew expressed their concerns about their spacecraft's problems by presenting this parody of their crew portrait to ASPO manager Joseph Shea on August 19, 1966.

The Apollo Command/Service Module spacecraft was much bigger and far more complex than any previously implemented spacecraft design. In October 1963, Joseph F. Shea was named Apollo Spacecraft Program Office (ASPO) manager, responsible for managing the design and construction of both the CSM and the LM. In a spacecraft review meeting held with Shea on August 19, 1966 (a week before delivery), the crew expressed concern about the amount of flammable material (mainly nylon netting and Velcro) in the cabin, which the technicians found convenient for holding tools and equipment in place. Though Shea gave the spacecraft a passing grade, after the meeting they gave him a crew portrait they had posed with heads bowed and hands clasped in prayer, with the inscription:

It isn't that we don't trust you, Joe, but this time we've decided to go over your head.[12]

Shea gave his staff orders to tell North American to remove the flammables from the cabin, but did not supervise the issue personally.[13]

North American shipped spacecraft CM-012 to Kennedy Space Center on August 26, 1966 under a conditional Certificate of Flight Worthiness: 113 significant incomplete planned engineering changes had to be completed at KSC. But that was not all; an additional 623 engineering change orders were made and completed after delivery.[14] Grissom became so frustrated with the inability of the training simulator engineers to keep up with the spacecraft changes, that he took a lemon from a tree by his house[15] and hung it on the simulator.[16]

The Command and Service Modules were mated in the KSC altitude chamber in September, and combined system testing was performed. Altitude testing was performed first unmanned, then with both the prime and backup crews, from October 10 through December 30. During this testing, the Environmental Control Unit in the Command Module was found to have a design flaw, and was sent back to the manufacturer for design changes and rework. The returned ECU then leaked water/glycol coolant, and had to be returned a second time. Also during this time, a propellant tank in Service Module 017 had ruptured during testing at NAA, prompting the separation of the modules and removal from the chamber so the Service Module could be tested for signs of the tank problem. These tests were negative, and once all outstanding hardware problems were fixed, the reassembled spacecraft finally completed a successful altitude test with Schirra's backup crew.[17]

According to the final report of the accident investigation board, "At the post-test debriefing the backup flight crew expressed their satisfaction with the condition and performance of the spacecraft."[17] This would appear to contradict the account given in Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger and astronaut James Lovell, that "When the trio climbed out of the ship, ... Schirra made it clear that he was not pleased with what he had seen," and that he later warned Grissom and Shea that "there's nothing wrong with this ship that I can point to, but it just makes me uncomfortable. Something about it just doesn't ring right," and that Grissom should get out at the first sign of trouble.[18]

Following the successful altitude tests, the spacecraft was removed from the altitude chamber on January 3, 1967, and mated to its Saturn IB launch vehicle on pad 34 on January 6.


Plugs-out test

The Block I hatch, as used on Apollo 1, consisted of two pieces, and required pressure inside the cabin be no greater than atmospheric in order to open. A third outer layer, the boost protective hatch cover, is not shown.

The launch simulation on January 27, 1967, on pad 34, was a "plugs-out" test to determine whether the spacecraft would operate nominally on (simulated) internal power while detached from all cables and umbilicals. Passing this test was essential to making the February 21 launch date. The test was considered non-hazardous because neither the launch vehicle nor the spacecraft was loaded with fuel or cryogenics, and all pyrotechnic systems were disabled.[7]

At 1:00 pm EST (1800 GMT) on January 27, first Grissom, then Chaffee, and White entered the Command Module fully pressure-suited, and were strapped into their seats and hooked up to the spacecraft's oxygen and communication systems. There was an immediate problem: Grissom noticed a strange odor in the air circulating through his suit which he compared to "sour buttermilk", and the simulated countdown was held at 1:20 pm, while air samples were taken. No cause of the odor could be found, and the countdown was resumed at 2:42 pm. (The accident investigation found this odor not to be related in any way to the fire.)[7]

Three minutes after the count was resumed, the hatch installation was started. The hatch consisted of three parts: a removable inner hatch, which stayed inside the cabin; a hinged outer hatch, which was part of the spacecraft's heat shield; and an outer hatch cover, which was part of the boost protective cover enveloping the entire Command Module to protect it from aerodynamic heating during launch and from launch escape rocket exhaust in the event of a launch abort. The boost hatch cover was partially but not fully latched in place, because the flexible boost protective cover was slightly distorted by some cabling run under it to provide the simulated internal power. (The spacecraft's fuel cell reactants were not loaded for this test.) After the hatches were sealed, the air in the cabin was replaced with pure oxygen at 16.7 psi (1,150 hPa), 2 psi (140 hPa) higher than atmospheric pressure.[7]

Further problems included episodes of high oxygen spacesuit flow, which tripped an alarm. The likely cause was determined to be the astronauts' movements, which were detected by the spacecraft's inertial guidance gyroscope and Grissom's stuck-open microphone. The open microphone was part of the third major problem, with the communications loop connecting the crew, the Operations and Checkout Building and the Complex 34 blockhouse control room. The problems led Grissom to remark: "How are we going to get to the Moon if we can't talk between three buildings?" The simulated countdown was held again at 5:40 pm while attempts were made to fix the problem. All countdown functions up to the simulated internal power transfer had been successfully completed by 6:20 pm, but at 6:30 the count remained on hold at T minus 10 minutes.[7]


Audio recording from the ground loop, Chaffee can be heard at the 1:05 mark making first mention of the fire.
Exterior of the Command Module was blackened from eruption of the fire after the cabin wall failed
The charred remains of the Apollo 1 cabin interior

The crew members were using the time to run through their checklist again, when a voltage transient was recorded at 6:30:54 (23:30:54 GMT). Ten seconds later (at 6:31:04), Chaffee exclaimed "Hey!", and scuffling sounds followed for two seconds. White then reported, "I've got a fire in the cockpit!". Some witnesses said that they saw White on the television monitors, reaching for the inner hatch release handle as flames in the cabin spread from left to right and licked the window. The final voice transmission is believed to have come from Chaffee. Six seconds after White's report of a "fire in the cockpit", a voice cried out, "There's a bad fire!". The sound of the spacecraft's hull rupturing was heard immediately afterwards, followed by "I'm burning up!" and a scream. The transmission then ended abruptly at 6:31:21, only 15 seconds after the first report of fire.

The intensity of the fire fed by pure oxygen caused the pressure to rise in that 15 seconds to 29 psi (2,000 hPa), which ruptured the Command Module's inner wall (initial phase of the fire). Flames and gases then rushed outside the Command Module through open access panels to two levels of the pad service structure. Intense heat, dense smoke, and ineffective gas masks designed for toxic fumes rather than heavy smoke hampered the ground crew's attempts to rescue the men. There were fears the Command Module had exploded, or soon would, and that the fire might ignite the solid fuel rocket in the launch escape tower above the Command Module, which would have likely killed nearby ground personnel, and possibly have destroyed the pad.[7]

As the pressure was released by the cabin rupture, the convective rush of air caused the flames to spread across the cabin, beginning the second phase. The third phase began when most of the oxygen was consumed and was replaced with atmospheric air, essentially quenching the fire, but causing massive amounts of smoke, dust, carbon monoxide, and fumes to fill the cabin.

It took five minutes for the pad workers to open all three hatch layers, and they could not drop the inner hatch to the cabin floor as intended, so they pushed it out of the way to one side. Although the cabin lights remained lit, they were at first unable to find the astronauts through the dense smoke. As the smoke cleared, they found the bodies, but were not able to remove them. The fire had partly melted Grissom's and White's nylon space suits and the hoses connecting them to the life support system. Grissom had removed his restraints and was lying on the floor of the spacecraft. White's restraints were burned through, and he was found lying sideways just below the hatch. It was determined that he had tried to open the hatch per the emergency procedure, but was not able to do so against the internal pressure. Chaffee was found strapped into his right-hand seat, as procedure called for him to maintain communication until White opened the hatch. Because of the large strands of melted nylon fusing the astronauts to the cabin interior, removing the bodies took nearly 90 minutes.[7]


As a result of the in-flight failure of the Gemini 8 mission on March 17, 1966, NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans wrote and implemented Management Instruction 8621.1 on April 14, 1966, defining Mission Failure Investigation Policy And Procedures. This modified NASA's existing accident procedures, based on military aircraft accident investigation, by giving the Deputy Administrator the option of performing independent investigations of major failures, beyond those for which the various Program Office officials were normally responsible. It declared, "It is NASA policy to investigate and document the causes of all major mission failures which occur in the conduct of its space and aeronautical activities and to take appropriate corrective actions as a result of the findings and recommendations."[20]

Immediately after the Apollo 1 fire, Seamans directed establishment of the Apollo 204 Review Board chaired by Langley Research Center director Floyd L. Thompson, which included astronaut Frank Borman, spacecraft designer Maxime Faget, and six others. To avoid the possible appearance of a conflict of interest, NASA Administrator James E. Webb got the approval of President Lyndon B. Johnson for an internal NASA investigation, and notified appropriate leaders of Congress. According to Webb's official NASA bio:

"...Webb went to President Lyndon Johnson and asked that NASA be allowed to handle the accident investigation and direct the recovery from the accident. He promised to be truthful in assessing blame and pledged to assign it to himself and NASA management as appropriate."[21]

Seamans immediately ordered all Apollo 1 hardware and software impounded, to be released only under control of the Board. On February 3, two members, a Cornell University professor and North American's Chief engineer for Apollo, left the Board, and a U.S. Bureau of Mines professor joined. After thorough stereo photographic documentation of the CM-012 interior, the board ordered its disassembly using procedures tested by disassembling the identical CM-014, and conducted a thorough investigation of every part. The board also reviewed the astronauts' autopsy results and interviewed witnesses. Seamans sent Webb weekly status reports of the investigation's progress, and the Board issued its final report on April 5, 1967.

According to the Board, Grissom suffered severe third degree burns on over one-third of his body and his spacesuit was mostly destroyed. White suffered third degree burns on almost half of his body and a quarter of his spacesuit had melted away. Chaffee suffered third degree burns over almost a quarter of his body and a small portion of his spacesuit was damaged. The autopsy report confirmed that the primary cause of death for all three astronauts was cardiac arrest caused by high concentrations of carbon monoxide. Burns suffered by the crew were not believed to be major factors, and it was concluded that most of them had occurred postmortem. Asphyxiation happened after the fire melted the astronauts' suits and oxygen tubes, exposing them to the lethal atmosphere of the cabin.[14]

The review board identified five major factors which combined to cause the fire and the astronauts' deaths:

  • An ignition source most probably related to exposed electrical wiring and leak-prone plumbing
  • Pure oxygen atmosphere at high pressure
  • Flammable materials in the cabin
  • A hatch cover which could not be quickly removed at high pressure
  • Inadequate emergency preparedness

Ignition source

The review board determined that the electrical power momentarily failed at 23:30:55 GMT, and found evidence of several electric arcs in the interior equipment. However, they were unable to conclusively identify a single ignition source. They determined that the fire most likely started near the floor in the lower left section of the cabin, close to the Environmental Control Unit.[14] It spread from the left wall of the cabin to the right, with the floor being affected only briefly.

The board noted that a silver-plated copper wire running through an environmental control unit near the center couch had become stripped of its Teflon insulation and abraded by repeated opening and closing of a small access door. This weak point in the wiring also ran near a junction in an ethylene glycol/water cooling line that had been prone to leaks. The electrolysis of ethylene glycol solution with the silver anode was a notable hazard capable of causing a violent exothermic reaction, igniting the ethylene glycol mixture in the CM's corrosive test atmosphere of pure, high-pressure oxygen.[22][23]

Pure oxygen atmosphere

The Apollo 1 crewmen enter their spacecraft in the altitude chamber at Kennedy Space Center, October 18, 1966

The plugs-out test had been run to simulate the launch procedure, with the cabin pressurized with pure oxygen at the nominal launch level of 16.7 psi (1,150 hPa), 2 psi (140 hPa) above standard sea level atmospheric pressure. This is more than five times the 3 psi (210 hPa) partial pressure of oxygen in the atmosphere, and provides an environment in which materials not normally considered highly flammable will burst into flame.

The high-pressure oxygen atmosphere was consistent with that used in the Mercury and Gemini programs. The pressure before launch was deliberately greater than ambient in order to drive out the nitrogen-containing air and replace it with pure oxygen, and also to seal the plug door hatch cover. During launch, the pressure would have been gradually reduced to the in-flight level of 5 psi (340 hPa), providing sufficient oxygen for the astronauts to breathe while reducing the fire risk. The Apollo 1 crew had tested this procedure with their spacecraft in the Operations and Checkout Building altitude (vacuum) chamber on October 18 and 19, 1966, and the backup crew of Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham had repeated it on December 30.[24] The investigation board noted that, during these tests, the Command Module had been fully pressurized with pure oxygen four times, for a total of six hours and fifteen minutes, two and a half hours longer than it had been during the plugs-out test.[17]

When designing the Mercury spacecraft, NASA had considered using a nitrogen/oxygen mixture to reduce the fire risk near launch, but rejected it based on two considerations. First, nitrogen used with the in-flight pressure reduction carried the clear risk of decompression sickness (known as "the bends"). But the decision to eliminate the use of any gas but oxygen was crystalized when a serious accident occurred on April 21, 1960, in which McDonnell Aircraft test pilot G.B. North passed out and was seriously injured when testing a Mercury cabin / spacesuit atmosphere system in a vacuum chamber. The problem was found to be nitrogen-rich (oxygen-poor) air leaking from the cabin into his spacesuit feed.[25] North American Aviation had suggested using an oxygen/nitrogen mixture for Apollo, but NASA overruled this. The pure oxygen design also carried the benefit of saving weight, by eliminating the need for nitrogen tanks.

In his monograph Project Apollo: The Tough Decisions, Deputy Administrator Seamans wrote that NASA's single worst mistake in engineering judgment was not to run a fire test on the Command Module prior to the plugs-out test.[26] In the first episode of the 2009 BBC documentary series NASA: Triumph and Tragedy, Jim McDivitt said that NASA had no idea how a 100% oxygen atmosphere would influence burning.[27] Similar remarks by other astronauts were expressed in the 2007 documentary film In the Shadow of the Moon.[28]

Other oxygen fires

Several fires in high-oxygen environments had occurred prior to the Apollo fire. For example, in 1962, USAF Colonel B. Dean Smith was conducting a test of the Gemini space suit with a colleague in a pure oxygen chamber at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas when a fire broke out, destroying the chamber. Smith and his partner narrowly escaped.[29]

Other oxygen fire occurrences are documented in certain U.S. reports archived in the National Air and Space Museum,[30] such as:

  • Selection of Space Cabin Atmospheres. Part II: Fire and Blast Hazaards [sic] in Space Cabins. (Emanuel M. Roth; Dept of Aeronautics Medicine and Bioastronautics, Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research. c.1964–1966.)
  • "Fire Prevention in Manned Spacecraft and Test Chamber Oxygen Atmospheres." (MSC. NASA General Working Paper 10 063. October 10, 1966)

On January 28, 1986, the Soviet Union disclosed that cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko died after a fire in a high-oxygen isolation chamber on March 23, 1961, less than three weeks before the first Vostok manned space flight.[31][32][33]

Flammable materials in the cabin

The review board cited "many types and classes of combustible material" close to ignition sources. The NASA crew systems department had installed 34 square feet (3.2 m2) of Velcro throughout the spacecraft, almost like carpeting. This Velcro was found to be flammable in a high-pressure 100% oxygen environment. Up to 70 pounds of other non-metallic flammable materials had also crept into the design.

Buzz Aldrin states in his book Men From Earth that the flammable material had been removed (per the crew's August 19 complaints and Joseph Shea's order), but was replaced prior to the August 26 delivery to Cape Kennedy.

Hatch design

The inner hatch cover used a plug door design, sealed by higher pressure inside the cabin than outside. The normal pressure level used for launch (2 psi (140 hPa) above ambient) created sufficient force to prevent removing the cover until the excess pressure was vented. Emergency procedure called for Grissom to open the cabin vent valve first, allowing White to remove the cover,[7] but Grissom was prevented from doing this because the valve was located to the left, behind the initial wall of flames. Also, while the system could easily vent the normal pressure, its flow capacity was utterly incapable of handling the rapid increase to 29 psi (2,000 hPa) absolute caused by the intense heat of the fire.[34]

North American had originally suggested the hatch open outward and use explosive bolts to blow the hatch in case of emergency, as had been done in Project Mercury. NASA did not agree, arguing the hatch could accidentally open, as it had on Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 flight, so the inward-opening hatch was selected early in the Block I design.

Before the fire, the Apollo astronauts had recommended changing the design to an outward-opening hatch, and this was already slated for inclusion in the Block II Command Module design. According to Donald K. Slayton's testimony before the House investigation of the accident, this was based on ease of exit for spacewalks and at the end of flight, rather than for emergency exit.[35]

Emergency preparedness

The board noted that: the test planners had failed to identify the test as hazardous; the emergency equipment (such as gas masks) were inadequate to handle this type of fire; that fire, rescue, and medical teams were not in attendance; and that the spacecraft work and access areas contained many hindrances to emergency response such as steps, sliding doors, and sharp turns.[14]

Political fallout

Deputy Administrator Seamans, Administrator Webb, Manned Space Flight Administrator George E. Mueller, and Apollo Program Director Phillips testify before a Senate hearing on the Apollo accident

Committees in both houses of the Maj Gen Samuel C. Phillips were called to testify before Sen. Anderson's committee.

In the February 27 hearing, Senator Walter F. Mondale asked Webb if he knew of a "report" of extraordinary problems with the performance of North American Aviation on the Apollo contract. Webb replied he did not, and deferred to his subordinates on the witness panel. Mueller and Phillips responded they too were unaware of any such "report".

However, in late 1965, just over a year before the accident, Phillips had headed a "tiger team" investigating the causes of inadequate quality, schedule delays, and cost overruns in both the Apollo CSM and the Saturn V second stage (for which North American was also prime contractor.) He gave an oral presentation (with transparencies) of his team's findings to Mueller and Seamans, and also presented them in a memo to North American president John L. Atwood, to which Mueller appended his own strongly worded memo to Atwood.[36]

During Mondale's 1967 questioning about what was to become known as the "Phillips Report", Seamans was afraid Mondale might actually have seen a hard copy of Phillips' presentation, and responded that contractors have occasionally been subjected to on-site progress reviews; perhaps this was what Mondale's information referred to.[26] Mondale continued to refer to "the Report" despite Phillips' refusal to characterize it as such, and angered by what he perceived as Webb's deception and concealment of important program problems from Congress, he questioned NASA's selection of North American as prime contractor. Seamans later wrote that Webb roundly chastised him in the cab ride leaving the hearing, for volunteering information which led to the disclosure of Phillips' memo.[26]

On May 11, Webb issued a statement defending NASA's November 1961 selection of North American as the prime contractor for Apollo. This was followed on June 9 by Seamans filing a seven-page memorandum documenting the selection process. Webb eventually provided a controlled copy of Phillips' memo to Congress. The Senate committee noted in its final report NASA's testimony that "the findings of the [Phillips] task force had no effect on the accident, did not lead to the accident, and were not related to the accident",[37] but stated in its recommendations:

"Notwithstanding that in NASA's judgment the contractor later made significant progress in overcoming the problems, the committee believes it should have been informed of the situation. The committee does not object to the position of the Administrator of NASA, that all details of Government/contractor relationships should not be put in the public domain. However, that position in no way can be used as an argument for not bringing this or other serious situations to the attention of the committee."[38]

Freshman Senators Edward W. Brooke III and Charles H. Percy jointly wrote an Additional Views section appended to the committee report, chastising NASA more strongly than Anderson for not having disclosed the Phillips review to Congress. Mondale wrote his own, even more strongly worded Additional View, accusing NASA of "evasiveness, ... lack of candor, ... patronizing attitude toward Congress, ... refusal to respond fully and forthrightly to legitimate Congressional inquiries, and ... solicitous concern for corporate sensitivities at a time of national tragedy."[39]

The potential political threat to Apollo blew over, due in large part to the support of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who at the time still wielded a measure of influence with the Congress from his own Senatorial experience. He was a staunch supporter of NASA since its inception, had even recommended the Moon program to President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and was skilled at portraying it as part of Kennedy's legacy.

Internal acrimony developed between NASA and North American over assignment of blame. North American argued unsuccessfully it was not responsible for the fatal error in spacecraft atmosphere design. Finally, Webb contacted Atwood, and demanded either he or Chief Engineer Harrison A. Storms resign. Atwood elected to fire Storms.[40]

On the NASA side, Joseph Shea became unfit for duty in the aftermath and was removed from his position, although not fired.[41]

Program recovery

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: Tough and Competent. Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities... Competent means we will never take anything for granted... Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write Tough and Competent on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room, these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.

Gene Kranz, speech given to Mission Control after the accident.[42][43]

Gene Kranz called a meeting of his staff in Mission Control three days after the accident, delivering a speech which has subsequently become one of NASA's principles.[42] Speaking of the errors and overall attitude surrounding the Apollo program before the accident, he stated: "We were too 'gung-ho' about the schedule and we blocked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we."[43] He reminded the team of the perils and mercilessness of their endeavor, and stated the new requirement that every member of every team in mission control be "tough and competent", requiring nothing less than perfection throughout NASA's programs.[43] 36 years later, following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, then-NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe quoted Kranz's speech, adopting it in principle to honor the lives of Apollo 1's and Columbia's astronauts.[42]

Command Module redesign

After the fire, the Apollo program was grounded for review and redesign. The Command Module was found to be extremely hazardous and in some instances, carelessly assembled (for example, a misplaced socket wrench was found in the cabin).[34]

It was decided that remaining Block I spacecraft would be used only for unmanned Saturn V test flights. All manned missions would use the Block II spacecraft, to which many Command Module design changes were made:

  • The cabin atmosphere at launch was changed to 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen at sea-level pressure: 14.7 psi (1,010 hPa). During ascent the cabin rapidly vented down to 5 psi (340 hPa), releasing approximately 2/3 of the gas originally present at launch. The vent then closed and the environmental control system maintained a nominal cabin pressure of 5 psi (340 hPa) as the spacecraft continued into vacuum. The cabin was then very slowly purged (vented to space and simultaneously replaced with 100% oxygen), so the nitrogen concentration fell asymptotically to zero over the next day. Although the new cabin launch atmosphere was significantly safer than 100% oxygen, it still contained almost three times the amount of oxygen present in ordinary sea level air (20.9% oxygen). This was necessary to ensure a sufficient partial pressure of oxygen when the astronauts removed their helmets after reaching orbit. (60% of 5 psi is 3 psi, compared to 20.9% of 14.7 psi (1,010 hPa), or 3.07 psi (212 hPa) in sea-level air.)
  • The environment within the astronauts' pressure suits was not changed. Because of the rapid drop in cabin (and suit) pressures during ascent, decompression sickness was likely unless the nitrogen had been purged from the astronauts' tissues prior to launch. They would still breathe pure oxygen, starting several hours before launch, until they removed their helmets on orbit. Avoiding the "bends" was considered worth the residual risk of an oxygen-accelerated fire within a suit.
  • Nylon used in the Block I suits was replaced in the Block II suits with Beta cloth, a non-flammable, highly melt-resistant fabric woven from fiberglass and coated with Teflon.
  • Block II had already been planned to use a completely redesigned hatch which opened outward, and could be opened in less than ten seconds. Concerns of accidental opening were addressed by using a cartridge of pressurized nitrogen to drive the release mechanism in an emergency, instead of the explosive bolts used on Project Mercury.
  • Flammable materials in the cabin were replaced with self-extinguishing versions.
  • Plumbing and wiring were covered with protective insulation.
  • 1,407 wiring problems were corrected.

Thorough protocols were implemented for documenting spacecraft construction and maintenance.

New mission naming scheme

The astronauts' widows asked that Apollo 1 be reserved for the flight their husbands never made, and on April 24, 1967, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dr. George E. Mueller, announced this change officially: AS-204 would be recorded as Apollo 1, "first manned Apollo Saturn flight – failed on ground test".[1] Since three unmanned Apollo missions (AS-201, AS-202, and AS-203) had previously occurred, the next mission, the first unmanned Saturn V test flight (AS-501) would be designated Apollo 4, with all subsequent flights numbered sequentially in the order flown. The first three flights would not be renumbered, and the names Apollo 2 and Apollo 3 would go unused.[44]

The manned flight hiatus allowed work to catch up on the Saturn V and Lunar Module, which were encountering their own delays. Apollo 4 flew in November 1967. Apollo 1's (AS-204) Saturn IB rocket was taken down from Launch Complex 34, later reassembled at Launch complex 37B and used to launch Apollo 5, an unmanned Earth orbital test flight of the first Lunar Module LM-1, in January 1968. A second unmanned Saturn V AS-502 flew as Apollo 6 in April 1968, and Grissom's backup crew of Wally Schirra, Don Eisele, and Walter Cunningham, finally flew the orbital test mission as Apollo 7 (AS-205), in a Block II CSM in October 1968.


The names of the three astronauts on the Space Mirror at the Kennedy Space Center

Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Ed White was buried at West Point Cemetery on the grounds of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

Their names are among those of several astronauts and cosmonauts who have died in the line of duty, listed on the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida.

An Apollo 1 mission patch was left on the Moon's surface after the first manned lunar landing by Apollo 11 crew members Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.[45]

The Apollo 15 mission left on the surface of the Moon a tiny memorial statue, Fallen Astronaut, along with a plaque containing the names of the Apollo 1 astronauts, among others including Soviet cosmonauts, who perished in the pursuit of human space flight.[46]

Launch Complex 34

After the Apollo 1 fire, Launch Complex 34 was subsequently used only for the launch of Apollo 7 and later dismantled down to the concrete launch pedestal, which remains at the site () along with a few other concrete and steel-reinforced structures. The pedestal bears two plaques commemorating the crew. Each year the families of the Apollo 1 crew are invited to the site for a memorial, and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center includes the site in its tour of the historic Cape Canaveral launch sites.

In January 2005, three granite benches, built by a college classmate of one of the astronauts, were installed at the site on the southern edge of the launch pad. Each bears the name of one of the astronauts and his military service insignia.
Launch pedestal, with dedication plaque on rear of right post Memorial kiosk Dedication plaque attached to launch platform Memorial plaque attached to launch platform Granite memorial benches on the edge of the launch pad

Stars, landmarks on the Moon and Mars

  • Apollo astronauts frequently aligned their spacecraft inertial navigation platforms and determined their positions relative to the Earth and Moon by sighting sets of stars with optical instruments. As a practical joke, the Apollo 1 crew named three of the stars in the Apollo catalog after themselves and introduced them into NASA documentation. Gamma Cassiopeiae became Navi – Ivan (Gus Grissom's middle name) spelled backwards. Iota Ursae Majoris became Dnoces – "Second" spelled backwards, for Edward H. White II. And Gamma Velorum became Regor – Roger (Chaffee) spelled backwards. These names quickly stuck after the Apollo 1 accident and were regularly used by later Apollo crews.[47]
  • Craters on the Moon and hills on Mars are named after the three Apollo 1 astronauts.

Civic and other memorials

Remains of CM-012

The Apollo 1 Command Module has never been on public display. After the accident, the spacecraft was removed and taken to Kennedy Space Center to facilitate the review board's disassembly in order to investigate the cause of the fire. When the investigation was complete, it was moved to the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and placed in a secured storage warehouse.

On February 17, 2007, the parts of CM-012 were moved approximately 90 feet (27 m) to a newer, environmentally controlled warehouse.[64] Only a few weeks earlier, Gus Grissom's brother Lowell publicly suggested CM-012 be permanently entombed in the concrete remains of Launch Complex 34.[65]

Popular culture

See also


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^
  3. ^ Benson 1978: Chapter 18-1 – The Fire That Seared The Spaceport, "Introduction"
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "A version of this article was published concurrently in the British Interplanetary Society's Spaceflight magazine." (June 2008; pp. 220–225).
  12. ^ Murray & Cox 1989, p. 184
  13. ^ Murray & Cox 1989, p. 185
  14. ^ a b c d
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c Seamans, Apollo 204 Review Board Final Report, History of the Accident
  18. ^ Lovell and Kluger, Apollo 13 (soft cover), p. 14
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ In 1967 a vice president of North American Aviation, John McCarthy, speculated that Grissom had accidentally "scuffed the insulation of a wire" while moving about the spacecraft, but his remarks were ignored by the review board and strongly rejected by a congressional committee. Frank Borman, who had been the first astronaut to go inside the burned spacecraft, testified, "We found no evidence to support the thesis that Gus, or any of the crew members kicked the wire that ignited the flammables." A 1978 history of the accident written internally by NASA said at the time, "the spark that led to the fire still has wide currency at Kennedy Space Center. Men differ, however, on the cause of the scuff." (Benson 1978: Chapter 18-6 – The Fire That Seared The Spaceport, "The Review Board", retrieved May 12, 2008) Soon after making his comment McCarthy had said, "I only brought it up as a hypothesis." ( )
  24. ^ Benson 1978: Chapter 18-3 – The Spacecraft Comes to KSC
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b c
  27. ^ "One Small Step" at the Internet Movie Database
  28. ^ (2007)In the Shadow of the Moon at the Internet Movie Database
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ a b
  35. ^ Benson 1978: Chapter 18-2 – The Fire That Seared The Spaceport, "Predictions of Trouble"
  36. ^
  37. ^ Anderson 1968, p. 7
  38. ^ Anderson 1968, p. 11
  39. ^ Anderson 1968, p. 16
  40. ^ Harrison Storms interview with historian James Burke for BBC television. See Video on YouTube (at 28:11).
  41. ^ Murray & Cox 1989, pp. 213–14
  42. ^ a b c PDF of update available from NASA here [1].
  43. ^ a b c Kranz 2000, p. 204
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ Section 105:11:33.
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^
  60. ^ Map of City of Long Beach Enterprise Zones (PDF)
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Further reading

External links

  • NASA Apollo 1 website
  • Baron testimony at investigation before Olin Teague, 21. April 1967
  • Apollo 204 Review Board Final Report, NASA's final report on its investigation, April 5, 1967
  • Apollo 204 Accident: Report of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, United States Senate, with Additional Views, Final report of the U.S. Senate investigation, January 30, 1968
  • Apollo 1 Crew- U.S. Spaceflight History Biography
  • Apollo Operations Handbook, Command and Service Module, Spacecraft 012 (The flight manual for CSM 012)
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