Apollo 1 (AS-204)

On May 25th, 1961 President John F. Kennedy announced that America was to go to the Moon by the end of the decade. And so the newly founded, 3 year old NASA began its work to get a man on the face of the Moon within 10 Years.

After the success of the Mercury and Gemini Programs NASA was keen to advance the space program. (NASA had named the Mercury missions after the Greek God Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. The name Gemini was chosen because Gemini in Latin means Twins, and Gemini Flights were to carry two Astronauts as opposed to the one in the Mercury Flights.) It was now time for Apollo, the God of the Sun, he who spread knowledge.

NASA's goals for the Apollo Program were more than just put a man on the moon. They were:

  • To establish the technology to meet other national interests in space;
  • To achieve pre-eminence in space for the United States;
  • To carry out a program of scientific exploration of the Moon
  • To develop man's capability to work in the lunar environment.

In March of 1966, Virgil "Gus" Grissom was named as AS 204 Commander, together with Ed White (the astronaut who had performed the first United States extravehicular activity during the Gemini Program) and Roger Chaffee as his crew. Real work on the Apollo Project had been going on since before 1962, Thousands of people and Billions of Dollars. It was getting close though, The launch was scheduled for October 1966.

As always, The Astronauts had a keen interest in the design and building of the spacecraft, and indeed had plenty of input. Along with their supporting staff of engineers and technicians, the three men participated directly in the progressive design and manufacturing reviews and inspections as Spacecraft 012 neared completion. Some of the things Grissom saw he did not like.

The arrival of Spacecraft 012 (Command Module) to the Cape only brought more problems. It soon became obvious that many designated engineering changes were incomplete. The environmental control unit leaked like a sieve and needed to be removed from the module. As a result, the launch schedule was delayed to February 21, 1967. The Apollo simulator that was used for training purposes had its own set of problems and was not in any better shape than the actual spacecraft itself. According to Astronaut Walter Cunningham, "We knew that the spacecraft was, you know, in poor shape relative to what it ought to be. We felt like we could fly it, but let's face it, it just wasn't as good as it should have been for the job of flying the first manned Apollo mission." Nonetheless, the crew made do with what they had and by mid January of 1967, preparations were being made for the final pre-flight tests of Spacecraft 012.

On January 27th 1967, Spacecraft 012 was to have a Plugs-out-test. The purpose of the Space Vehicle Plugs-Out Integrated Test, Operational Checkout Procedures (OCP) FO-K-0021-1, Spacecraft 012 is to demonstrate all space vehicle systems and operational procedures in as near a flight configuration as is practical and to verify their capability in a simulated launch. System verification is performed, an abbreviated final countdown conducted and a flight simulation made. All communication and instrumentation systems are activated and proper measurements are monitored at appropriate ground stations. At the start of the simulated flight, umbilicals are disconnected and the spacecraft is on simulated fuel-cell power. By 22:20 GMT (6:20 p.m. EST) all final countdown functions up to the transfer to simulated fuel cell power were completed and the count was held at T-10 minutes pending resolution of the communications problems.

From the start of the T-10 minute hold at 23:20 GMT until about 23:30 GMT there are no events that appear to be related to the fire. The major activity during this period was routine troubleshooting of the communications problem. The records show that except for the communications problem, all systems were operating normally during this period. There were no voice transmissions from the spacecraft from 23:30:14 GMT until the transmission reporting a fire that began at 23:31:04.7 GMT (6:31:04.7 p.m. EST).

The biomedical data indicated that just prior to the fire report, Ed White was performing essentially no activity (or was in the baseline "rest" condition) until about 23:30:21 GMT when a slight increase in pulse and respiratory rate was noted. At 23:30:30 GMT the electrocardiogram indicates some muscular activity for several seconds. Similar indications are noted at 23:30:39 GMT. The data show increased activity but are not indicative of an alarm type of response. By 23:30:45 GMT, all of the biomedical parameters had reverted to the baseline "rest" level.

Beginning at 23:31:04.7 GMT, the crew gave the first verbal indication of an emergency - a fire in the Command Module was reported. Emergency procedures called for the Senior Pilot (Ed White), occupying the centre couch, to unlatch and remove the hatch while retaining his harness buckled. A number of witnesses who observed the television picture of the Command Module hatch window during this stage of the fire discerned motion that suggest that the Senior Pilot was reaching for the inner hatch handle. The Senior Pilot's harness buckle was found unopened after the fire, indicating that he initiated the standard hatch-opening procedure. Data from the Guidance and Navigation System indicate considerable activity within the Command Module after the fire was discovered. This activity is consistent with movement of the crew prompted by proximity of the fire or with the undertaking of standard emergency egress procedures.
Personnel located on adjustable level 8 (A-8) adjacent to the Command Module responded to the report of the fire. The Pad Leader ordered crew egress procedures to be started and technicians started toward the White Room which surrounds the hatch and into which the crew would step upon egress. Then the Command Module ruptured.
All transmission of voice and data from the spacecraft terminated by 23:31:22.4 GMT, three seconds after rupture. Witnesses monitoring television showing the hatch window report that flame spread from the left to the right side of the Command Module and shortly thereafter covered the entire visible area.

Due to the possibility in space for the hatch to blow open because of the air pressure in the Command Module and a Vacuum outside, the Hatch was designed to open in. With a slightly higher pressure inside the Command Module than outside, opening the inner hatch is impossible because of the resulting force on the hatch. Thus the inability of the pressure relief system to cope with pressure increase due to the fire made opening of the inner hatch impossible until after cabin rupture, and after rupture the intense and widespread fire together with rapidly increasing carbon monoxide concentrations further prevented escape.

The three Astronauts Perished.

The exhaustive investigation of the fire and extensive reworking of the Command Modules (CM) postponed any manned launch until NASA officials cleared the CM safe for manned flight. Saturn 1B schedules were suspended for nearly a year, and the launch vehicle that finally bore the designation AS-204 carried a Lunar Module (LM) as the payload, not the Apollo CM. The missions of AS-201 and AS-202 with Apollo spacecraft aboard had been unofficially known as Apollo 1 and Apollo 2 missions (AS-203 carried only the aerodynamic nose cone). In the spring of 1967, NASA's Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, Dr. George E. Mueller, announced that the mission originally scheduled for Virgil "Gus" Grissom, White and Chaffee would be known as Apollo 1, and said that the first Saturn V launch, scheduled for November 1967, would be known as Apollo 4. The eventual launch of AS-204 became known as the Apollo 5 mission (In the end no missions or flights were designated Apollo 2 and 3). Apollo 7 would become the first manned Apollo mission.

15 named missions made up the Apollo Project. Not including Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz

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