The Apollo 1 Fire (VIDEO)
Fifty years ago on this date, a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 command module which unfortunately took the lives of all three astronauts on board. It was the first major disaster of the United States space program that resulted in the death of an astronaut. Edward H. White, Roger B. Chafee, and Virgil Grissom were participating in a preflight rehearsal for the launch scheduled the following month when a fire broke out in the command module which trapped them inside.
Immediately following the horrific accident, NASA convened a special group they called the Apollo 204 Accident Review Board to try and determine what happened that day. Both houses of Congress also conducted their own investigation as well as inquiries to oversee NASA’s investigation. It was discovered that the source of the fire was an electrical issue that was made substantially worse by the high concentration of pure oxygen inside the module as well as a highly combustible nylon materal. When the fire broke out, the men inside were not able to open the escape hatch because the internal pressure of the cabin was significantly higher than outside. Because the rockets were unfueled at the time, the test wasn’t deemed hazardous and therefore emergency response preparedness was much lower than it normally would be for a launch. The Apollo program would recover, and less than two years later, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.