Apollo 1 Fire: The Tragic Accident at NASA 50 years Ago
This time of the year is always a gloomy one for NASA as they remember their first causalities – the three astronauts who died during the horrific space disasters. This year, January 27 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 Fire. On this day in 1967, a fire erupted inside the Apollo command module during a preflight rehearsal test, killing three astronauts who were trapped inside.
Coincidentally, two other deadly spaceflight accidents that occurred decades later happened around the same time of year. On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crewmembers. Tragedy struck again on Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke into pieces as it returned to Earth, killing another seven astronauts.
Days of Remembrance
The Apollo 1 mission was supposed to be the first of several crewed flights NASA conducted to prepare for its first moon landing. But the spacecraft never made it off the Launchpad. Also, it was destroyed a month before its planned launch date – 21st February.
The crew consisted of Lt. Col. Edward H. White II, USAF; Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom, USAF; and Lt. Roger B. Chaffee, USN. Grissom was very vocal about the spacecraft not being ready. There were communication problems, and on that day, they got a foul smell from the oxygen tank.
As the crew went over their checklist inside the module, suddenly, the spacecraft’s interior became engulfed in flames. Heat caused the air pressure inside the spacecraft to rise, making it impossible for the astronauts to open the hatch, which was designed to open inward. It was only thirty seconds after that the spacecraft ruptured.
Haste for space
People at NASA knew about the shortcomings of the spacecraft. There was a lot of political pressure because of the space race between the US and Russia. This made NASA overlook some safety features. After the Apollo disaster, NASA overhauled the Apollo spacecraft with a quick-release hatch, removing everything flammable from inside the module and no longer using pure oxygen.