Apollo 1 Who, What, When, Why, and

Apollo 1

Who, What, When, Why, and How?

This work in writing intends to examine Apollo 1 in terms of who, what, when, where, why and how and to note this outcomes of this NASA mission and make recommendations in retrospect to this event in American space history.

Who, What, Where, and When

Apollo 1 (204) was conducting a launch pad test from Pad 240A (7) with Virgil 'Gus' Ivan Grissom, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF, Edward Higgins White, II Lieutenant Colonel, USAF, and Roger Bruce Chaffee, Lieutenant Commander USN aboard on January 27, 1967 when tragedy struck. Apollo 1 burned in a flash with the three astronauts inside the launch vehicle.

Why, and How

It is reported that the Administration of the National Aeronautics and Space administration established the Apollo 204 Review Board, on January 27, 1967. It is reported that the board was "heavily weighted with NASA personnel" since the Administrator believed that due to the complex nature of the Apollo program that board members needed to be 'thoroughly familiar with the Apollo system and with NASA management procedures to make an orderly and accurate investigation of the accident and determine its cause. It is reported that in order to complete the review that it was necessary for 23 working panels to be established for the purpose of reviewing the various spacecraft subsystems of the Apollo spacecraft and materials and due to the extremely large volume of testing that would be conducted in the investigation.

A. Failure to Follow Procedure

It is reported that operational test procedures for the Apollo 1 spacecraft "were subjected to last-minutes changes, which were agreed to verbally but not reduced to writing" therefore all personnel would be knowledgeable and have the opportunity to review the changes and be made aware of the impact of those changes upon the test that was being conducted. While it was found that the failure to follow this procedure, which was agreed upon, was not the cause or did it contribute to the tragedy however, according to NASA "the policy for development of test procedures does require that an adequate time be provided prior to a test to complete procedures." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection)

B. Communication System Deemed Unsatisfactory

The Apollo review board additionally found that the "overall communication system was unsatisfactory and recommended that the ground communication system be improved to insure reliable communications between all test elements before any manned operations. NASA agrees that there were certain deficiencies in the communications system but witnesses testified that in no way were they able to determine that the communications problem was related to the ignition of the fire or contributed to the accident." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection)

C. NASA -- Agency Self-Examination and Review

The review board found that the "control of material present inside the command module during the test was inadequate." The combustible standards that have been set for non-metallic materials was not high enough and the criteria used for selecting and approving the material for the spacecraft were also inadequate. In addition, there was no criteria for the material placement of material to minimize the propagation of a fire if ignited, and there was very little control over the temporary use of nonflight materials during testing on the ground resulting in nonflight materials being inside the spacecraft at the time of the ignition of the fire inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft.

D. Deficiencies in Command Module

Deficiencies were also identified in the command module by the Apollo 204 Review Board and these were of the nature concerning "design, workmanship and the quality control" which was held by the board to create a foreseeable hazard. Deficiencies included "problems*in design and installation of electrical wiring, chronic failures of components of the environmental control system; and the fact that no brivation tests were conducted of a complete flight configured spacecraft." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection)

Figure 1

Launch Pad for Apollo 1 Spacecraft

Source: Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection

Figure 2

Apollo 1 Module

Source: Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection

Retrieved from: http://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/gallery13.jpg

E. Deficiencies in Engineering Management

Deficiencies in the engineering management of the Apollo 1 design included "change orders, configuration control, and general status of the hardware at a particular point in time. The level of workmanships in manufacturing, installation and rework which is required and expected in program of the technical sophistication of the Apollo spacecraft was absent." ( ) in addition to all of this it is reported that a wrench socket was discovered in the 012 Command Module during the postfire disassembling process." Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection

Figure 3

Electrical Control Panel

Source: NASA Retrieved from: http://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/gallery.html

F. No Conclusive Identification of 'Single' Ignition Source

There was not a conclusive identification of a single ignition being the source of the fire but the review board did state that it had identified the most probable initiator as an electrical arc occurring near the floor in the lower forward section of the left-hand equipment bay where environmental control system instrumentation power wiring led into the area between the environmental control unit and the oxygen panel." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection) the spacecraft design focus was on elimination of all ignition sources. The result is that criteria for design was the avoidance neither of a quick-opening hatch nor to include a fire extinguishing system in the cabin." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection)

G. Three-Phase Fire & Emergency Response Times

A three-phase fire occurred upon the spacecraft's ignition. During the second phase combustible materials caused the fire to spread rapidly through the spacecraft. The resulting increase in pressure ruptured the cabin at about 14.7 seconds after the call of fire. Temperature at some places in the cabin during the second phase reached more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The three crewmembers are reported to have become unconscious due to exposure to gases that were highly toxic and they soon perished with reports from the autopsy showing that asphyxia was the conclusive cause of death rather than the fire.

It took rescue 4 minutes and 55 seconds to remove the hatch but by the time they arrived on the scene the Board had made the decision that the crew could not be revived. It took firefighters 8 minutes and 55 seconds to arrive at the scene and the first medical doctor did not arrive until 11 minutes, 55 seconds after report of the fire.

The following chart recaps the response time of each emergency and rescue responder in the Apollo 1 incident.

Figure 4

Emergency Response Providers -- Response Time

Emergency Response Provider

Time to Respond Upon Notification of Incident


4 minutes 55 seconds


8 minutes 55 seconds

Medical Doctor

11 minutes 55 seconds

Source: Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection

The Review Board states that the Cabin ruptured from the fire at 14.7 seconds following the call reporting the fire with temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection, paraphrased)

H. Procedures & Spacecraft and Facility Modifications

The astronauts that died that day are credited to having been the driver for the substantial changes in the Apollo program in terms of it management both in the agency and in the prime contractor sector. Hardware changes initiated on the part of NASA include those relating to: (1) procedures; and (2) Spacecraft and Facility Modifications.

1. Procedures: Procedures include that al testing is now conducted in 100% pure oxygen environments and are labeled as hazardous. Further stated is that there has been a restructuring of the test procedures in term of the responsibility at the Kennedy Space Center and the Manned Spacecraft Center and an Office of Flight Safety has been established independent of the flight program for headquarters and field centers to review all aspects of design, manufacturing, test, and flight from a safety standpoint. Finally, training for emergency situations is a requirement both for all test support personnel and the launch pad and appropriate firefighting and rescue equipment is readily available.

2. Modifications to the spacecraft and facilities and included is the material selection and placement specifications for the command module which is of a nature that serves to provide restrictions and control on the combustible material location and amount in the command module. A hatch that opens quickly was reported to have been designed and installed "…on all Block II spacecraft. The flight crew has an emergency oxygen supply in case they are somehow separated from their suits and there has been a modification made to the launch facilities to accommodate the quick-opening hatch and expedite flight crew exit through the service structure in the event of fire." (Report of Apollo 204 Review Board-- NASA Historical Reference Collection)

I. Prime Contractor…