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The inner story of the cabin fire of Apollo 1

The Apollo program began in the Halcyon years of the late 1950s, when the nation was liberated from the industrial boom of the post-war period and free of major social disruption. By the mid-sixties, however, the political landscape had changed significantly. These seemingly happy days had hidden the underlying tensions that exploded in the sixties. In 1966, deadly race riots, rooted in poverty and inequality, frequently erupted, escalating protests against America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Despite Increasing Criticism and Criticism The Apollo program opposed apathy, although NASA's inflation-adjusted budget was on the verge of shrinking. It was still massive – 4.4 percent of the federal budget for 1

966 – but the message from the congress seemed mixed; Basically, they said, go ahead and land on the moon, but do not count on another program of the same size afterwards. What kept NASA running was above all a commitment to a beloved leader who had remained in his best position in less than three years of office. He was a president who was initially indifferent to the space effort, but had initially agreed to it for political purposes, then with real enthusiasm. JFK's death had only compounded that promise, and NASA's population and other government officials would retain it, even though Congressmen and the scientific community said the dangers of manned spacecraft outweighed the benefits and machines and robots could do the same thing as their human Counterparts and more – and for much less money.

By the end of 1966, Go Fever had established itself at both NASA and the factories of thousands of counterparties. The onslaught was aimed at getting things done as quickly as possible, which meant that potential small issues were overlooked, as dealing with them could lead to delivery dates. The end of the race was in sight. Although the astronaut of the Mercury Project Gus Grissom knew the problems of the command module, he was also arrested in Go Fever. Because if the Apollo 1 flight went well and the next few flights as well, he was convinced that he would be the first choice for the moon landing. After all, NASA senior management, which included Slayton and Kraft, felt it should be a Mercury astronaut, if at all possible, and he was the only one they trusted to do the job properly , After his successful Gemini-3 flight, he felt he had redeemed himself after the bad end of his Mercury mission, and his relationship with the press had improved considerably. From then on, a newspaper man said, he was "a reporter's delight." If he and his crew could easily go through these tests and NASA could make these corrections to their spacecraft, they would be fine.

Grissom's crewmates for Apollo 1 were thirty-six-year-old Ed White, the first American space skier and national hero, and thirty-one-year-old Roger Chaffee, a member of the 1963 astronaut group White had told his father, who had served as a flight-storm pilot in the 1930s, that his goal was to make the first flight to the moon. Chaffee, though he had not flown in twins, was highly regarded; He was a former naval pilot of fighter jets and spy planes – he had flown reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the rocket crisis in October 1962 – and was an engineering perfectionist. Chaffee and Grissom were both Purdue graduates, and the two had come closer – Chaffee had even picked up on some of Grissom's habits, as if he was tainting his speech with occasional profanities. Gus, who soon turned forty-one, loved the young pilot and described him as "a really great boy."

Grissom had not been able to ride flocks on the Apollo probe from the earliest stages of production. He had coped with twins. Because the two programs were developed simultaneously, other astronauts were involved in the early assembly and testing of the command service module at the North American Aviation facility in Downey, California, and were not allowed to use the input, Grissom added Gemini had. In addition, the contractor was unwilling to share data and drawings with NASA air traffic controllers and astronauts. But Grissom did his best to catch up, and he was not happy with how things went. None of the Apollo components went smoothly or on schedule.

If the module had been a horse, they would have shot sometime in 1966, perhaps as early as 1965, said Walt Williams, the former Mercury Operations Director. What would be Grissom's tools, AS-204, as such, because it was Apollo-Saturn, brought into space by the fourth booster of the second Saturn series, the Saturn IB, was especially troubled by its communication and its drive its environmental systems and beyond. This resulted in an unruly accumulation of electrical cables – there were about thirty kilometers in the spaceship – that could hardly be pushed in. Apollo was a few orders of magnitude more complex than twins, and everyone began to figure out what that meant.

Slayton had assigned Grissom the first Apollo flight shortly after Gus' Gemini 3 mission in March 1965. Gus and his crewmates spent several weeks away from home, either at the North American Aviation factory in California or at Grummans on Long Island, though spending most of their time in the former, Jim McDivitt, who was outside Gemini 4 in early June had been assigned to the LM, and Grumman was responsible. They spent many days attending countless meetings, supervising design and manufacturing audits, conducting inspections, and testing the spacecraft, which usually meant sitting in it for hours while one or more engineers or technicians reported design and operational errors. Some North American aerospace engineers had called Grissom "nitpicker" because of its thoroughness. Grissom's domestic life, that of his teammates and supporters, consisted mainly of spending a single weekend with their families reminding their children that they had fathers and their wives, that they had husbands.

At the Cape was the Mission's Simulator With the inclusion of the latest developments, Grissom had lagged far enough to hang a large lemon a few days before the test. At a December press conference, Grissom had stated that a successful flight would be one in which he and his crew get him back alive. The reporters laughed and thought he was kidding. It was not very clear that it was him, especially given what he privately told Al Shepard, "This is the worst spaceship I've ever seen." He told his wife that his crewmates did not have enough time to command spend module – "He thought that they should work instead of playing," she recalled. But he made sure not to sound too loud. "They'll fire me," he told his old Gemini 3 teammate John Young.

The pressure to complete these components and bring them to Cape Kennedy was enormous, and despite some inferior work and incomplete inspections, they did. It was just too much involved so the astronauts could keep an eye on everything. Grissom gave Slayton and Shepard a long list of problems. But Go Fever had taken over, and there was not enough time to get things right or repair what had to be fixed now. NASA had commissioned three manned Apollo missions for 1967 and a total of fifteen Saturn V missiles, although it was hoped that a moon landing would occur on the ninth or tenth launch – and before the end of the decade. Adhering to this tight schedule depended on a good, solid shakedown flight to find all the problems in the Command Service module.

Although the actual mission was scheduled for February 21, 1967, there were some important tests before. One was a plug-out test: a simulated full countdown, at the end of which the spacecraft was switched to internal energy, almost identical to the actual starting conditions, to test the compatibility of all systems and to ensure that the spacecraft can operate internal energy alone. It would only include the command and service modules, no booster, so it would be safe to have a routine dress rehearsal that was supposed to run for about five hours. In the cabin, the environment would be 100 percent oxygen, not 80 percent nitrogen and 20 percent oxygen on Earth, to avoid the kinks that could be induced by nitrogen in the blood. A single gas atmosphere also eliminated the need for complex piping needed to maintain the proper mix and weight of these pipelines. Although pure oxygen was easily flammable, it was used in Mercury and Gemini without complications.

Wally Schirra and his backup team had been in the cone-shaped command module for two days before running a similar countdown test, this external-powered plug-in with the hatch open. They had done it in an atmosphere at sea level, breathing in ambient air and without spacesuits. This test had become a 23-hour marathon, which ended at three o'clock in the morning before. Afterwards, Schirra told Grissom he had a bad feeling about the spacecraft. "You will be in full oxygen tomorrow," he said, "and if you have the same feeling as me, I suggest you go out." At about noon on a chilly Friday, January 27, at Cape Kennedy's launch pad 34, Grissom, White, and Chaffee took the elevator two hundred and fifty feet to eighth in their white flight suits and walked down the twenty-foot catwalk to the White Room, one Shelter that surrounds the command module during installation and verification. Deke Slayton was with them – he'd considered lying in bed at their feet during the test to find out what communications problems the command module had, but Grissom declined. At one o'clock in the afternoon, they were strapped into their sofas, as known from hours of vacuum testing in Houston, and Slayton went to the log cabin where he would monitor the test. The command service module was on the unfilled Saturn IB booster.

The technicians sealed the three-piece access hatch – first the inner hatch, then the outer hatch, and finally the booster cap. The original design had required a one-piece hatch that would be released by explosive bolts, but when Grissom nearly drowned after spraying the Liberty Bell 7, the design had been altered so that it could never be accidentally opened. None of the astronauts liked it because it eliminated the possibility of an EVA from the command module. A simpler hinged hatch was in the works, though it was not available in the Block I version of Grissom. They needed a wrench to loosen the six screws on the inner hatch (in simulations this was not possible in less than ninety seconds), and the hatch could not open if the inside-out pressure was not equal. The cabin was pressurized to 16.7 pounds per square centimeter, slightly higher than the atmospheric pressure at sea level of 14.7 pounds per square inch.

The crew sat three side by side and their shoulders almost touched each other: Grissom on the left in the command seat Pilot White in the middle and Pilot Chaffee on the right. Above and in front of them were several gauges, switches, dials, lights and toggle switches.

The crew had been at the Cape all week, but they had spent the previous Sunday night with their families. Grissom and his wife had discussed the big party that all the astronauts and their wives had planned for the day after the start on Saturday in Houston. One of the last things he had done was pick a lemon from the tree in his garden. The crew hoped to finish this plug-out test – and an emergency exit for the practice Grissom had insisted on – at a reasonable time, so that they could fly their T-38s back to Houston and sleep in their own homes and try let off some steam at the party. However, the command module did not cooperate. The astronauts worked their way slowly through the preflight checklist and waited through several grips while the ground crew struggled to fix a radio error. Constant static communication between Mission Control and the spacecraft. After Grissom had to repeat himself several times to be understood, his frustration broke out: "I said, Jesus Christ, if we can not communicate with each other for over three miles, how the hell should we communicate when we're on the moon?

The day continued. At 4:00 pm left one shift technician and another. At 5:40 pm, just before sunset, another breakpoint was called at T minus ten minutes to solve another communication problem before the simulated take off, as the plugs were pulled. Everyone hoped that this would be the final delay. After that they could go on with the last ten minutes, finish the thing and go through the emergency exit practice – the three astronauts would take the portal's high-speed elevator to a refractory truck waiting at the base of the pad – and get out there. Someone suggested postponing the test, but that was overridden. Repeating the test would cost more time, and time was something they did not have.

A few seconds before 18:31, when the crew again went through their checklist, there was a slight increase in tension.

Nine seconds later, one of the crew shouted, "Hey!"

A moment passed, then a voice – maybe the white – sounded: "We have a fire in the cockpit!"

Seven seconds of silence followed. Then a mutilated transmission, possibly of Chaffee: "We have a bad fire – let's go out. , , we burn.

There was one last howl of pain and nothing more.

The Pad-Rescue Team's 27 men hurried down the catwalk fourteen seconds after the first alarm call, the command module's hull burst and spit flames and gasses Some of them ran down the catwalk to the elevator and thought that the command module had exploded or threatened, several snatched fire extinguishers, ran to the White Room, and struggled to open the hatch of the module, but the heat and smoke drifted They came back shortly afterwards, some with gas masks, and while the pad leader called for firefighters and ambulances, five men took turns with a venting tool, working through the thick dark smoke and making several trips to the whites Room to breathe in. About five minutes after the first fire report, they finally opened all three hatches, but then it was too late. The fire had lasted only twenty-five seconds, but the three astronauts had been suffocated by the poisonous gases in the cabin. There was no fire extinguisher in it. 19659002 A quarter of a mile away, Deke Slayton, Grissom's best friend, was sitting in the concrete log cabin next to rookie astronaut Stu Roosa, the CapCom, chatting with Rocco Petrone Nonsense director for take-offs in Cape Kennedy. Slayton jumped up from his seat when he heard the first scream. He and everyone else turned to the video monitors and watched helplessly as flames in the spaceship turned white and then faded. Slayton thought he saw a movement in the cabin. A few seconds later, someone on the launchpad heard a doctor calling. Slayton and two doctors rushed to the pad, took the elevator to level eight and hurried into the White Room, where the hatch was already open. Slayton looked in and saw a blanket of black ash that covered everything. "It looks like the inside of a stove," he said; The Washington Post used these words a few days later as a headline.

Later it would be determined that there was a spark below and to the left of Grissom's couch – probably a short circuit in a bundle of cables somewhere in the many kilometers of wiring. The command service module – had reached something flammable and ignited a fire that had raged through the cabin and burned everything and everyone in his path: belts and belts, nylon braids, spacesuits, helmet covers, oxygen hoses, aluminum coolant hoses and many hook and loop fasteners and patches are scattered everywhere. The pure oxygen was replaced almost instantly by carbon monoxide and toxic black smoke that entered the crew's oxygen lines. The official cause of death was asphyxia, although the men had also suffered severe but not life-threatening burns. Later it was estimated that the internal temperature had reached at least 2400 ° C – the melting point of stainless steel, which had melted inside.

In the final seconds before his death, Grissom probably left his seat. Try to help White open the door bolts. The heat and the molten material had welded the astronauts together with different parts of the cabin and for Grissom and White. When Slayton looked into the black shell, he could not say which head belonged to which body. After all the doctors, firefighters and other rescue workers arrived, the scene was extensively photographed inside and out to support the upcoming investigation. At 12:30 they began to remove the bodies; It would take ninety minutes to complete the work. 27 pad technicians were taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

Some time later, after the escape missile was disarmed, Slayton went to his office. As the news of the tragedy spread through the ranks of NASA, Deke and Chuck Friedlander, the gregarious head of the Kennington Astronaut Support Office, spent hours calling everyone who needed to know. Deke alerted astronauts in the Houston area and gave them a difficult task: They or their wives should get to the homes of Grissom, White and Chaffee as soon as possible to let families know what had happened before they got on the news or heard in the news got calls from inquiring reporters. Michael Collins had the task to drive to Nassau Bay to inform Martha Chaffee. A few astronaut women had arrived at her house earlier, but had not told her. She knew when she saw Collins arrive.

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