A Brief on the Apollo 1 (Capsule 204) Fire on its 50th Anniversary


Apollo 1 after the fire.

Apollo 1 after the fire.

What happened?

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).

Who investigated?

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.

Where can more information and further reading be found?

http://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/

http://history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/biblio.html

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4 Responses to A Brief on the Apollo 1 (Capsule 204) Fire on its 50th Anniversary

  1. jackcrenshaw says:

    Anyone who has taken a high-school chemistry class knows that things burn easier in pure oxygen. Raise the pressure another 5psi and things only get worse. The decision to put the Apollo 1 astronauts in a 20 psi atmosphere has to be one of the most boneheaded decisions in the history of mankind.

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    • jackcrenshaw says:

      Someone — I think it was Deke Slayton, reportedly said, “We sort of forgot our High School Chemistry.” Indeed.

      Gus Grissom also reported the danger. No one listened to him either.

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  2. My father Anton Chiapuzio was in charge of the ground support systems for the Apollo Missions. He was the top engineer with 350 plus engineers under his command at North American. He told me he predicted a fire and brought it up many times to his superiors and he was told not to bring this up any more or be fired. He even called Nasa directly to warn them of this serious situation and was not taken seriously. He said the fuses for the capsual’s wiring wold not blow due to the impedance caused by the distance from the fuses to the capsule. Not really rocket since he said just Ohm’s Law. Why this story is unknown is what I do not understand. He gave all of this information to the investigation team who came to North American to find out what happend. Ron Chiapuzii

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