of the worst tragedies in the history of spaceflight occurred on
January 27, 1967 when the crew of Apollo 1 were killed in a fire
in the Command Module during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral.
were training for the first crewed Apollo flight, an Earth orbiting
mission scheduled to be launched on 21 February.
1 p.m. on Friday, 27 January 1967 the astronauts entered the capsule
on Pad 34 to begin the test. A number of minor problems cropped
up which delayed the test considerably and finally a failure in
communications forced a hold in the count at 5:40 p.m. At 6:31 one
of the astronauts (probably Chaffee) reported, "Fire, I smell fire."
Two seconds later White was heard to say, "Fire in the cockpit."
Apollo hatch could only open inward and was held closed by a number
of latches which had to be operated by ratchets. It took at least
90 seconds to get the hatch open under ideal conditions.
the cabin had been filled with a pure oxygen atmosphere at normal
pressure for the test and there had been many hours for the oxygen
to permeate all the material in the cabin, the fire spread rapidly
and the astronauts had no chance to get the hatch open.
technicians tried to get to the hatch but were repeatedly driven
back by the heat and smoke. By the time they succeeded in getting
the hatch open, the astronauts had already perished due to smoke
inhalation and burns.
Apollo program was put on hold while an exhaustive investigation
was made of the accident. It was concluded that the most likely
cause was a spark from a short circuit in a bundle of wires that
ran to the left and just in front of Grissom's seat. The large amount
of flammable material in the cabin in the oxygen environment allowed
the fire to start and spread quickly.