Remembering The Fatal Apollo 1 Tragedy And How It Cost The World 3 Heroes

The risk of death astronauts faced on missions to the moon were always expected to be on the flight or on the landing, never on the ground.

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50 years after the ill-fated take off of Apollo 1 that resulted in a flash fire claiming the lives of three astronauts, we look back on the tragic accident. In the winter of 1967 there was a lot of doubt about the President John F. Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth” before the end of the decade.

Delivery of the newly designed spacecraft experienced a three-month delay, setting back the Apollo program’s first manned mission to February 1967. The programme was further hindered by ongoing testing failures experienced by the most sophisticated flying machine ever engineered.

The three men ready to blast off on Apollo 1 were first-time astronaut Roger Chaffee and the veterans Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Ed White. They also had concerns with the new craft. They raised their concerns regarding the amount of flammable nylon and Velcro in the command module with manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, Joseph Shea.

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They then gave him a joke portrait of the crew showing their heads bowed and hands were clasped in prayer. “It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head,” read the inscription. Despite the danger of space travel, NASA had successfully launched 16 manned space flights through the Mercury and Gemini programs, all without a single casualty.

“Success had become almost routine for us,” wrote NASA flight director Gene Kranz in his book “Failure Is Not an Option.” “The country had gotten complacent.” Disregarding orders from Shea, the flammable materials were not removed from the Apollo 1 command module.

With less than a month to go before the scheduled launch, the crew of Apollo 1 boarded the craft on January 27, 1967 for what was to be a routine simulated launch test. Dressed in their spacesuits and with portable air conditioning packs in hand, they crossed the 218-foot-high catwalk and entered the command module sitting on top of the massive booster rocket.

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Several more delays caused the test to be hours behind schedule. Shortly after 6.30pm, engineers watching on CCTV saw a flash. A spark, believed to have come from an electrical fault was fed by the pure oxygen in the cabin and within seconds the craft was ablaze. Tragically, all three perished in the inferno.