Friday, January 26, 2018

Remembering the Apollo One Astronauts

Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee
January 27, 1967 is a day many space buffs will always remember. It was on that tragic evening three U.S. astronauts, Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee died on a Florida launch pad.
Apollo 1 Patch
The three astronauts were chosen for the Apollo Program, which was to be the first manned space flight. Grissom was to be the command pilot, (This would be his third space flight.) Ed White was designated as senior pilot because he had experienced two previous space flights, and Roger Chaffee was the pilot since this would be his first space flight.
The Arrival of the Apollo 1
But the Apollo spacecraft was plagued with problems from the beginning. In fact, when the craft was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in August 1966, more than 630 engineering changes were done to the command module as it set on the launch pad. The crew didn't like the huge assortment of flammable materials located in the cabin. The men approached Apollo Space Program Office Manager Joe Shea and requested that all of the netting and Velcro be removed for safety’s sake. Shea issued the order to his staff but did not have the request supervised. Finally, on December 30, 1966, the craft was ready for testing. But Commander Gus Grissom was so annoyed by the continuous problems and headaches; he hung a lemon off the Apollo simulator - one week before tragedy struck.

Command Pilot Gus Grissom
In December, when asked by a reporter about the risks, Gus Grissom replied, “You sort of have to put that out of your mind. There's always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course; this can happen on any flight; it can happen on the last one as well as the first one. So, you just plan as best you can to take care of all these eventualities, and you get a well-trained crew and you go fly.

Chaffee, White and Grissom Training in Simulator
It was Friday, January 27 1967, when the three men arrived at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Pad 34 ready to take part in pre-launch testing aboard the Apollo 1 command module. The test was not considered to be risky since there was no fuel on board, and any explosives had been disabled. But the testing was riddled with problems and concerns. The men were dealing with a situation that was growing worse. Grissom, White and Chaffee agreed that despite all of the problems plaguing the launch, all they could do was their best with what they had to fly - and fly they would on February 21.
Fire Blackened Command Module
Around 6:30 that evening, as nerves wore thin and the astronauts were ready to stop for the day, a flash fire broke out aboard the Apollo 1. In the pure oxygen environment, the fire burned quickly. So quickly that attempts to rescue the men were futile. A microphone that had remained on broadcast the dying words of one of the men into the control room: “We've got a bad fire—Let's get out ....We're burning up." All three astronauts aboard Apollo 1 died of asphyxiation. Once the craft was opened, it took 90 minutes to remove the astronauts due to the melted nylon inside the cabin that had fused to them.

Apollo Staff Testifying Before the Senate
The tragedy was investigated and the fire was blamed on faulty electrical wiring. But the men lost their lives because the pressure inside the cabin had sealed the hatch door shut making it impossible to open from either side. The capsule had become a deathtrap for the men inside. 
Launch Platform 34 Today
Tomorrow will be the 51 anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy. All that remains of Launch Complex 34 is the launch platform, which serves as a memorial to the crew of Apollo 1.
Attached to the structure are two plaques, which read, in part, “They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived. Godspeed to the crew of Apollo 1.”
~ Joy