The Apollo 1 (204) Command Module was on the ground at the Kennedy Space Center on January 27, 1967 when a fire broke out in the capsule. The three crew members (Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White) died quickly from asphyxiation.
What caused the problem?
A small spark in the capsule quickly caused a major fire in the 100% oxygen atmosphere inside the capsule. The three astronauts couldn’t escape quickly in part because the capsule’s door opened inward (it was deliberately designed this way to prevent an astronaut from accidentally opening outward in space).
NASA quickly organized its own internal Apollo 204 Review Board, chaired by NASA Langley Director Floyd Thompson. There was considerable criticism both then and since that NASA should not have been allowed to investigate itself.
Were there any previous inklings of major problems?
A few months before the accident, Thomas Baron, a mid-level quality inspector for the contractor North American Aviation at Kennedy Space Center, had complained in writing about quality control problems. He was in the process of expanding a 50-page paper into a 500-page report when the accident occurred.
In addition, in 1965 Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Director at NASA Headquarters, had initiated a review of NASA’s contract with North American to determine why work on both the Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V second stage was behind schedule and over budget. report NASA Associate for Manned Space Flight George Mueller had requested this highly critical study, known as the Phillips Report.
What major corrective actions and changes were made?
A new quick-opening hatch was developed.
A new Office of Flight Safety was established, as well as the independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.
Tests involving a 100% oxygen atmosphere were classified as hazardous.
How much time elapsed before further program activities resumed?
Apollo 7 launched on October 11, 1968, and successfully carried a three-person crew into orbit around the Earth for 10 days.