Apollo One Fire
Facts and Figures
The Apollo One fire involved Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee, who were the pilots who were going to land on the moon. Since the USA was competing with Russia to get the first man on the moon, the United States felt they had to meet a deadline. The fire happened on January 27, 1967. All the pilots suffered third degree burns, but they were found to have had a cardiac arrest from suffocation. No one outside the module received any injuries while they were scrambling to open the hatches to the room to allow more atmosphere in to quench the oxygen feeding fire. The total amount of money put into this program is equivalent to 110 billion dollars today, 30 billion dollars in the late 1960's.
Events Leading Up
Like any good space program, NASA made sure they tested each device thoroughly before putting men inside. After months of designing and testing, the test module under went in and out of being fixed and repaired due to malfunctions. One potential factor was a leakage of ethylene glycol. This was very common for the ship to leak and for some reason they didn't really bother to make it a permanent fix. The inspector and overseer of the project made sure they removed a lot of flammable materials. Since this was the first time they have ever done something so large and complex they were learning along the way.
What's to Blame
At first they had no idea where to start, but to look at where the scorches began. All the pilots suffered from third degree burns and their suits were melted to their skin. As the investigation progressed they found a showing silver wire that was warn down from a door that must have rubbed the Teflon off. Near by was leaking ethylene glycol. They found out that the faulty wiring experienced an electrical arch which is an electrical breakdown of a gas, in this case it was pure oxygen, that produces an ongoing discharge. Since the cabin was full of pure oxygen, to make the module lighter, the fire was able to consume the entire cabin and burn at a fantastic rate. The only way they were able to put it out was to open the hatches and allow the atmosphere outside, in.
In the Apollo 1 spacecraft, many problems occurred with the electrical wiring. Teflon, has an excellent fore resistance and was therefore chosen as the covering for the wiring in the spacecraft. However, the specific type of Teflon used in the craft was easily damaged or penetrated by abrasion. If the wiring experiences penetration by a metal structure, a short created at the point of conductor contact and becomes a high risk for a fire. Simultaneously, there was an Environmental Coolant System leakage. This leakage left a highly combustible residue inside the cabin. These two factors together are believed to have been the cause of fire. Furthermore, there were combustible materials inside the module. This mainly consisted of a nylon netting to protect the equipment areas during ground tests. NASA knew nylon is combustible and therefore did not allow it for spaceflight. The netting played a huge role in how fast the fire spread and how quickly things burned on the inside.
Space exploration is considered a highly dangerous job field and because of this, safety is considered very important. The Apollo 1 fire was the first major disaster for NASA. After this happened a lot of change took place in terms of how ground tests would be preformed and what goes in the module. Regulations and safety precautions were made to help protect the pilots involved. Whenever possible, flammable materials have to be replaced with nonflammable materials. The design of the cabin had to change due to the reason for emergency actions. When the pilots were burning in the cabin they didn't have easy access to emergency hatches or any other equipment that would have saved them. The main lesson learned from this disaster was how important safety is for the crew and those around it. Safety preparedness is the number one priority regardless of cost in money or to meet a deadline.