Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumbAmerica was challenged by its new, young President, John F. Kennedy, who at his inauguration called for the U.S. to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the 1960s. This was a major escalation of the space race that began when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I in 1957. The scientific, engineering, and manufacturing resources of America was directed towards this goal. I remember the pride that I felt when that first man stepped onto the lunar surface.

APOLLO 204 CREW TMH 01/27/2011

This quest to conquer space was not always successful. Launch vehicles failed, New technological solutions needed to be tweaked. scores of personnel needed to be trained. And a whole new science, telemetry, had to be developed. There were accidents happened; the worst of these occurred when three astronauts died in their command module of the Apollo 1 in 1967. The was a major, if temporary setback for the program.

But this problem was solved and man eventually did walk on the moon. We did achieve the goal presented to us by that President whose life was also lost to an assassin. You should check out my series on the Space Race; it is found under the “Emerging Technologies” menu tab. Many different developments needed to come together to accomplish this great goal.

When we look back at the contributions of the space program during the 1960s, we see amazing strides being made. I was in college at that time and saw these changes all around me. Living in Downey, California, put me near the nerve center of these advances, since North American Autonetics was just down the street. This was the company that designed and built the Apollo module. The computer brains behind the engineering and programming the onboard avionics for many of these missions. Much of the liquid Oxygen was generated in nearby Ontario and transported across the country by the trucking company I worked for during graduate school.


At the beginning of the decades of the 1960s, computers were the devices that engineers operated. By the end of the 1960s, these devices became both more powerful and easier for the non-engineer to operate. At the beginning of the decade, telecommunications meant the telephones connected to AT&T, but by the end of the decade the first IMP (Internet Message Processor) had been delivered to UCLA, SRI, and the UC Santa Barbara campuses to test out the primitive ARPAnet that became the Internet two decades later. At the beginning of the decade found medical monitoring done with a stethoscope by a doctor, but by the end of the decade we had remote monitoring capability that allowed Mission Control to monitor the vital signs for astronauts in space. And, at the beginning of the decade computer-controlled systems required direct, hand-on manipulation while at the end of the decade new instructions could be sent the space vehicles hundreds of miles away. This was real progress brought about by the space program under NASA’s oversight.

Yes, on that terrible day in January of 1967 we lost three well-trained, good men in that capsule fire aboard the Apollo I module. But our space program was fortunate that these were the only deaths that we experienced during a decade of monumental progress. We don’t know how many, if any, Soviet cosmonauts were lost during their space program development; the Soviet’s maintained a closed society where any such losses were probably hidden to outsiders. We paid a small price for our successful landing on the moon.

But now its time to start our exploration of the Apollo 1 Program... GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 2975 Words ]


Quotations Related to Apollo:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/apollo.html ]


“He who commands an Apollo flight will not command a second one.”
— Wally Schirra

“At this point in my career, Apollo 13 is a million light years away.”
— Kathleen Quinlan

“Kennedy had made a mess in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. He had to do something to look good. The Apollo program of going to the Moon was quite a goal.”
— Wally Schirra

“Apollo 13, as you may remember, gave us a reactor that is bubbling away right now somewhere in the Pacific. It’s supposed to be bubbling away on the moon, but it’s in the Pacific Ocean instead.”
— David R. Brower

“Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo.”
— Jose Marti

“I grew up watching a lot of the coverage of the early U.S. space program, all the way back starting with Mercury and then through Gemini and Apollo and of course going to the moon as the main part of the Apollo program.”
— Linda M. Godwin

“I think I was very interested in the space program as a kid, watching the first Apollo missions to the moon, and it’s something I thought that would be a lot of, of fun and exciting and a very worthwhile job.”
— Mark Kelly

“The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.”
— Neil Armstrong


In Memoriam: Apollo 1 Astronauts: Death on Launch Pad…


Apollo1-Crew_01The Apollo program was the United States spaceflight effort which landed the first humans on Earth’s Moon. Conceived during the Eisenhower administration and conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Apollo began in earnest after President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 address to Congress declaring a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon" by the end of the decade in a competition with the Soviet Union for supremacy in space.

Apollo 1 (official designation Apollo/Saturn-204) was planned to be the first manned mission of the Apollo manned lunar landing program, set to launch in February 1967. Its flight was precluded by a fatal fire on January 27, which killed all three crew members (Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee), and destroyed the Command Module cabin. This occurred during a pre-launch test of the spacecraft on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral. The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially assigned retroactively in commemoration of them.

1967: Apollo 1 (NASA)… (1:39)

The Apollo 204 Accident Review Board was promptly formed to determine the cause of the tragedy. Although the ignition source of the fire was never conclusively identified, the astronauts’ deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal design and construction flaws in the early Apollo Command Module. The manned phase of the project was delayed for twenty months while these problems were fixed. The Saturn IB launch vehicle SA-204 (Saturn/Apollo) intended to fly the mission was later used for the first unmanned Lunar Module test flight, Apollo 5.


The Apollo 1 Astronauts

Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom

Apollo_1_Prime_Crew_-_GPN-2000-001159-grissomVirgil Ivan Grissom, widely noted as Gus Grissom (1926 – 1967) was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and a United States Air Force pilot. He was the second American to fly in space and the first person to fly in space twice. Grissom was killed along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at the Kennedy Space Center. He was a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and, posthumously, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Liberty Bell 7

In 1961, Grissom was pilot of Mercury-Redstone 4, popularly known as Liberty Bell 7, the second American (suborbital) spaceflight. After splashdown explosive bolts blew the hatch off unexpectedly and water flooded into the tiny capsule. Grissom exited through the open hatch and into the ocean but nearly drowned as water filled his flightsuit while a helicopter tried to lift and recover the spacecraft. The capsule became too heavy with water and sank. Grissom strongly asserted he had done nothing to blow the hatch and NASA officials eventually concluded that he was correct. Initiating the explosive egress system required hitting a metal trigger with the side of a closed fist. This would always leave a large, obvious bruise on the astronaut’s forearm, but Grissom was found not to have any of the tell-tale bruising associated with triggering the emergency hatch release.

Grissom_prepares_to_enter_Liberty_Bell_7_61-MR4-76Grissom in front of the Liberty Bell 7 capsule

The capsule was recovered in 1999 but no evidence was found which could conclusively explain how the explosive hatch release fired on its own. Years after, Guenter Wendt (who was pad leader for the early American manned space launches) wrote that he believed a small cover over the external release actuator was accidentally lost sometime during the flight or splashdown and the T-handle may have been tugged by a stray parachute shroud line, or was perhaps damaged by the heat of re-entry, cooled upon splashdown, contracted and then fired. Grissom was surrounded by reporters in a news conference after his space flight in America’s second manned ship. When asked how he felt, he replied, "Well, I was scared a good portion of the time; I guess that’s a pretty good indication."

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Senior Pilot Edward H. White

Apollo1-EdWhiteEdward Higgins White, II (Lt Col, USAF) (1930 – 1967) was an engineer, United States Air Force officer and a NASA astronaut. On June 3, 1965, he became the first American to "walk" in space. White was killed along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the first manned Apollo mission at the Kennedy Space Center. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and had previously been awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Gemini 4 spaceflight.

White was chosen as part of the second group of astronauts in 1962. Within an already elite group, White was considered to be a high-flier by the management of NASA. As the pilot of Gemini 4, White became the first American to make a walk in space, on June 3, 1965. He found the experience so exhilarating that he was reluctant to terminate the EVA at the allotted time, and had to be ordered back into the spacecraft. While he was outside, a spare thermal glove floated away through the open hatch of the spacecraft, becoming an early piece of space debris in low-earth orbit for a time, until it burned up upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Ed_White_performs_first_U_S__spacewalkEdward White during EVA. During the Gemini 4 mission,
White became the first American astronaut to perform a spacewalk.

White’s next assignment after Gemini 4 was as the back-up for Gemini 7 Command Pilot Frank Borman. He was also named the astronaut specialist for the flight control systems of the Apollo Command/Service Module. By the usual procedure of crew rotation in the Gemini program, White would have been in line for a second flight as the Command Pilot of Gemini 10, which would have made him the first of his group to fly twice. But in 1966 he was selected as Senior Pilot (second seat) for the first manned Apollo flight, designated AS-204.

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Pilot Roger B. Chaffee

RogerChaffee_1964_wsRoger Bruce Chaffee (1935 – 1967) was an American aeronautical engineer, a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and a NASA astronaut in the Apollo program. Chaffee was killed along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at the Kennedy Space Center. Chaffee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart and the United States Navy Air Medal.

He served as a capsule communicator, along with Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Eugene Cernan, for the Gemini 4 mission, in which Edward H. White II made his space walk. Chaffee later served as one of the pallbearers for fellow astronaut Elliot See, who was killed in a plane crash while training for the Gemini 9 mission.

He never got a seat on a Gemini mission, but was tasked with working on flight control, communications, instrumentation, and attitude and translation control systems in the Apollo program. He was paired with Grissom to fly chase planes to photograph the launch of an unmanned Saturn 1B rocket. He received his first spaceflight assignment as Pilot for the first manned Apollo flight, AS-204, along with Command Pilot Grissom and Senior Pilot White. The men unofficially named their flight Apollo 1.

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Plugs-Out Test

The January 27, 1967 launch simulation, officially considered not hazardous because the Saturn IB was not loaded with fuel, was a "plugs-out" test to determine whether the spacecraft would operate nominally on internal power while detached from all cables and umbilicals. There was hope that if the spacecraft passed this and subsequent tests, it would be ready to fly on February 21, 1967.

At 1:00 PM (1800 GMT) on January 27 Grissom, White and Chaffee entered the command module fully suited, were strapped into their seats and hooked up to the spacecraft’s systems in preparation for the plugs-out test. There were immediate problems. A sour "buttermilk" smell in the air circulating through Grissom’s suit delayed the launch simulation until 2:42 PM. Three minutes later the hatch was sealed and high-pressure pure oxygen began replacing the air in the cabin.

Further problems included episodes of high oxygen flow apparently linked to movements by the astronauts in their flightsuits. There were also faulty communications between the crew, the control room, the operations and checkout building and the complex 34 blockhouse. "How are we going to get to the Moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?" Grissom complained in frustration over the communication loop. This put the launch simulation on hold again at 5:40. Most countdown functions had been successfully completed by 6:20 but the countdown was still holding at T minus 10 minutes at 6:30 with all cables and umbilicals still attached to the command module while attempts were made to fix the communication problem.




According to the Apollo 204 Review Board, Grissom suffered severe third degree burns on over a 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. It was later confirmed the crew had died of smoke inhalation with burns contributing. In later lawsuits brought by Gus Grissom’s widow Betty Grissom there were claims the astronauts had lived longer than NASA claimed publicly.

The review board found the documentation for CM-012 so lacking that they were at times unable to determine what had been installed in the spacecraft or what was in it at the time of the accident.

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Since the CM was designed to endure outward pressure in the vacuum of space, the plugs-out test had been run with the cabin pressure at over 16 psi, almost 2 psi above the ambient sea level pressure at Launch Complex 34 and near the upper limits of measuring devices in the spacecraft. This represented over 5 times the oxygen density carried within the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft while in spaceflight (which was only 3 psi but equal to the partial pressure of oxygen at sea level and thus very breathable). Following a worldwide survey of artificial oxygen-rich environments, it was found that rarely if ever had a 100% oxygen environment been created and maintained at such a high pressure, in which materials not normally considered highly flammable can burst into flame. The investigation also found much substandard wiring and plumbing in the craft. Hence, the fire was at first believed to have been caused by a spark somewhere in the over 25 km (16 mi) of wiring threaded throughout the command module.

The review board noted 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 which was known to be prone to leaks. The electrolysis of ethylene glycol solution with the silver anode was a notable hazard which could cause a violent exothermic reaction, igniting the ethylene glycol mixture in the CM’s corrosive test atmosphere of pure, high-pressure oxygen.

The panel cited how the NASA crew systems department had installed 34 square feet (3.2 m2) of fuzzy Velcro throughout the spacecraft, almost like carpeting. This Velcro was found to be explosive in a high-pressure 100% oxygen environment. Up to 70 pounds of other non-metallic flammable materials had crept into the design. Buzz Aldrin in Men From Earth states that the three astronauts complained that they wanted the flammable material removed, and that there was to be no flammable material in the spacecraft; the flammable material was removed, but was replaced prior to delivery to Cape Kennedy.

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Tribute to Apollo 1 Astronauts…  (3:53)



Please take time to further explore more about Apollo 1, Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White, Roger Chaffee, Apollo Program, Sputnik I, Space Race, Cold War, Launch Pad, Capsule Fire, and Astronauts by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…




Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: Apollo 1…

Wikipedia: Gus Grissom…

Wikipedia: Edward Higgins White…

Wikipedia: Roger Chaffee…

Wikipedia: Apollo Program…

Brainy Quote: Apollo Quotes…


Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Apollo 1: Astronauts Die on Launch Pad in Capsule Fire…

Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Sputnik I, The Space Race, & the Cold War…