Space exploration is an intriguing and necessary science, but sometimes it comes at a true cost. It’s been 50 years since the crash of Apollo 1 but it has by no means been forgotten.
The crash of Apollo one was heart-wrenching and perhaps one of the most frustrating because it was purely the fault of NASA employees. It might even be the most embarrassing failure they’ve ever experienced. On January 27, 1967, three men were preparing for the first manned Apollo flight when the disaster occurred. There were congressional hearings, stalled missions, and a thorough investigation after the incident occurred.
After boarding the rocket, the command module burst into a rapid fire during a launch rehearsal test. All three of the men died inside. Families mourned as NASA announced what had happened to Roger Chaffee, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, and Ed White II. “To me, it’s an emotional thing,” said Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian, who was 9 years old when the fire occurred. “Because space is risky and dangerous and it’s hard to do and can be expensive. But ultimately, you want to do it in a way that you don’t hurt anybody, and everybody comes home alive. This is a reminder that you have to be on your toes, and make sure that happens.”
It was approximately 6:31 PM when the astronauts began screaming that they had a fire in the cockpit. You can hear the cries in a recording. According to the official NASA summary, a command module ruptured, bursting gas and flames from the command center. Ground control took about five minutes to get the door to the hatch open but they could hardly see anything. One Washington Post story from 1967 stated that the inside looked like a furnace. The crew officially died from suffocating from the fires toxic gases and thermal burns. The associated press reported that ‘it was over for them in seconds.’
“I heard their screaming voices in the cockpit of the spacecraft. I heard them scream that they were on fire. I heard them scream get me out of here. And then there was dead silence on the pad. Within minutes we knew they were dead, and we were in deep, serious trouble,” The flight director, Chris Kraft reported.
This was truly a disaster and we must forever respect those three brave men. The first men to be courageous enough to volunteer as the first people going to the moon. Never forget America!
Featured image via The Washington Post