Apollo 1 Fire (1967)

Disaster Project by Austin Bythrow

Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee

On January 27th, 1967, a horrible thing happened in the space module of a pre flight test of the AS-204. Three astronauts had their lives taken from them due to a fire inside of the space module. This mission was going to be the first manned mission to land on the moon. America was determined to beat the Soviet Union in something we called the "space race." The launch date for the Apollo 1 space mission was to be on February 21, 1967 but while preparing for the mission the tragedy struck, shocking many Americans through out the country. All of the astronauts inside of the command module were killed, including Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee.

Sequence of Events

The three astronauts entered the command module that day at 1:00 p.m. on launch pad 34. Once the three astronauts were in, problems occurred right away. The first thing that happened was Virgil Grissom smelt something sour in his space suit after attaching his oxygen to the suit. The three astronauts took the time to take a sample of the suit, but then came to the conclusion to continue on with the test. The master alarm was then triggered due to a high oxygen flow but it was discussed with the environmental  control person who said that it was caused by the crew's movement inside of the command module. Grissom and the control center had bad communication through out the pre test, but the crew made some adjustments, but due to the faulty communications the countdown was postponed until 5:40 p.m. The countdown was then to begin again at 6:31 when there was a sudden rise in oxygen flow inside of the spacesuit. This was due to the movement of Grissom. Four seconds after the high oxygen flow through out the suits, Chaffee said "fire, I smell fire." Edward White's voice then announced that there was a fire in the cockpit. White was the one trying to open up the hatch but it didn't happen, the whole module bursted into flames. They said that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning and burns which had effects. Nasa impounded everything that was on the launch pad and did tests without the men inside of the module. The fire started near one of the wire bundles. This was just infront of Grissom's seat, nearly invisible to him but visible to Chaffee. 70 percent of Grissom's space suit was destroyed, 20 percent of Edward White's suit, and 15 percent of Chaffee. Firemen arrived within 3 minutes but it just was not quick enough and then the doctors were there soon after. The next manned mission wasn't until October of 1968.

Facts and Figures

In todays money we can say that the Apollo missions costed 110 billion dollars, but back then it was approximately 20 billion dollars. In this tragic time in American history, we lost three lives due to a fire inside of the command module. Carbon monoxide got to them before the fire could have them burned alive. The doctors treated 27 men for smoke inhalation and 2 out of the 27 men were hospitalized.

What Was to Blame?

Determined within the review board, the blame had to do with several aspects of the design, manufacture, installation, electrical wiring, the Enviromental Control, and the communication systems within the module. The blame was put on the organization of NASA and was considered very hazardous. There was a lot of talk on not spending as much of our money on the space race and not being involved with these types of organizations. The blame was mostly within the wiring which started the fire infront of Grissom's seat.   

Physics Behind the Failure

The most of the problems that occurred inside of the spacecraft had to do with the electrical wiring. Teflon was very fire resistance and was chosen to cover the wiring of the space craft. Although it was very fire resistant, the one used inside of the space craft was very able to be damaged by abrasion. There was coolant leakage inside of the space craft which was a mixture of 62.5 percent ethylene glycol, 35.7 percent H20, and 1.8 percent stabilizer and corrosion inhibitor. This mix was electrically conductive and was a major problem. Another problem within was the hatch design. The outer hatch wasn't all the way closed due to wires there during the test so the inner hatch became very highly pressurized making the gasses within the module expand. The space crafts atmosphere is what caused the spread of the fire. The high oxygen levels and 100 percent oxygen had a main factor on why the fire spread so easily.

Changes In Design

There was much change in the design of the next manned flight in October of the next year. Some of the changes were things such as onboard TV camera, S-band radio communications, a fire extinguisher, emergency oxygen masks, less combustible materials in the command module, better wiring, and a new system for minimizing volatility of the atmospheric conditions. All of these changes in the communications and the designs made the next flight successful.


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