In October , Joseph F. In a spacecraft review meeting held with Shea on August 19, a week before delivery , the crew expressed concern about the amount of flammable material mainly nylon netting and Velcro in the cabin, which both astronauts and technicians found convenient for holding tools and equipment in place.
Although Shea gave the spacecraft a passing grade, after the meeting they gave him a crew portrait they had posed with heads bowed and hands clasped in prayer, with the inscription:. It isn't that we don't trust you, Joe, but this time we've decided to go over your head. Shea gave his staff orders to tell North American to remove the flammables from the cabin, but did not supervise the issue personally.
But that was not all; an additional engineering change orders were made and completed after delivery. The command and service modules were mated in the KSC altitude chamber in September, and combined system testing was performed. Altitude testing was performed first uncrewed, then with both the prime and backup crews, from October 10 through December During this testing, the environmental control unit in the command module was found to have a design flaw, and was sent back to the manufacturer for design changes and rework.
Also during this time, a propellant tank in service module had ruptured during testing at NAA, prompting the separation of the modules and removal from the chamber so the service module could be tested for signs of the tank problem. These tests were negative. Once all outstanding CSM hardware problems were fixed, the reassembled spacecraft finally completed a successful altitude chamber test with Schirra's backup crew on December Something about it just doesn't ring right," and that Grissom should get out at the first sign of trouble. Following the successful altitude tests, the spacecraft was removed from the altitude chamber on January 3, , and mated to its Saturn IB launch vehicle on pad 34 on January 6.
You sort of have to put that out of your mind. There's always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course; this can happen on any flight; it can happen on the last one as well as the first one. So, you just plan as best you can to take care of all these eventualities, and you get a well-trained crew and you go fly.
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The launch simulation on January 27, , on pad 34, was a "plugs-out" test to determine whether the spacecraft would operate nominally on simulated internal power while detached from all cables and umbilicals. Passing this test was essential to making the February 21 launch date. The test was considered non-hazardous because neither the launch vehicle nor the spacecraft was loaded with fuel or cryogenics , and all pyrotechnic systems explosive bolts were disabled. The accident investigation found this odor not to be related to the fire.
Three minutes after the count was resumed, the hatch installation was started. The hatch consisted of three parts: a removable inner hatch, which stayed inside the cabin; a hinged outer hatch, which was part of the spacecraft's heat shield; and an outer hatch cover, which was part of the boost protective cover enveloping the entire command module to protect it from aerodynamic heating during launch, and from launch escape rocket exhaust in the event of a launch abort.
The boost hatch cover was partially, but not fully, latched in place because the flexible boost protective cover was slightly distorted by some cabling run under it to provide the simulated internal power. The spacecraft's fuel cell reactants were not loaded for this test. After the hatches were sealed, the air in the cabin was replaced with pure oxygen at Movement by the astronauts was detected by the spacecraft's inertial measurement unit and the astronaut's biomedical sensors, and also indicated by increases in oxygen spacesuit flow, and sounds from Grissom's stuck-open microphone.
There was no evidence to identify the movement, or whether it was related to the fire. The stuck microphone was part of a problem with the communications loop connecting the crew, the Operations and Checkout Building , and the Complex 34 blockhouse control room. The poor communications led Grissom to remark: "How are we going to get to the Moon if we can't talk between two or three buildings? The crew members were using the time to run through their checklist again, when a momentary increase in AC Bus 2 voltage occurred. Nine seconds later at This was immediately followed at This transmission lasted 5.
Some blockhouse witnesses said that they saw White on the television monitors, reaching for the inner hatch release handle  as flames in the cabin spread from left to right. Flames and gases then rushed outside the command module through open access panels to two levels of the pad service structure. Intense heat, dense smoke, and ineffective gas masks designed for toxic fumes rather than heavy smoke hampered the ground crew's attempts to rescue the men. There were fears the command module had exploded, or soon would, and that the fire might ignite the solid fuel rocket in the launch escape tower above the command module, which would have likely killed nearby ground personnel, and possibly have destroyed the pad.
As the pressure was released by the cabin rupture, the convective rush of air caused the flames to spread across the cabin, beginning the second phase. The third phase began when most of the oxygen was consumed and was replaced with atmospheric air, essentially quenching the fire, but causing high concentrations of carbon monoxide and heavy smoke to fill the cabin, and large amounts of soot to be deposited on surfaces as they cooled.
It took five minutes for the pad workers to open all three hatch layers, and they could not drop the inner hatch to the cabin floor as intended, so they pushed it out of the way to one side.
Although the cabin lights remained lit, they were at first unable to find the astronauts through the dense smoke. As the smoke cleared, they found the bodies, but were not able to remove them. The fire had partly melted Grissom's and White's nylon space suits and the hoses connecting them to the life support system.
Grissom had removed his restraints and was lying on the floor of the spacecraft. White's restraints were burned through, and he was found lying sideways just below the hatch. It was determined that he had tried to open the hatch per the emergency procedure, but was not able to do so against the internal pressure.
Chaffee was found strapped into his right-hand seat, as procedure called for him to maintain communication until White opened the hatch. Because of the large strands of melted nylon fusing the astronauts to the cabin interior, removing the bodies took nearly 90 minutes. Slayton said of Grissom and White's bodies, "It is very difficult for me to determine the exact relationships of these two bodies.
They were sort of jumbled together, and I couldn't really tell which head even belonged to which body at that point. I guess the only thing that was real obvious is that both bodies were at the lower edge of the hatch. They were not in the seats. They were almost completely clear of the seat areas.
This modified NASA's existing accident procedures, based on military aircraft accident investigation, by giving the Deputy Administrator the option of performing independent investigations of major failures, beyond those for which the various Program Office officials were normally responsible. It declared, "It is NASA policy to investigate and document the causes of all major mission failures which occur in the conduct of its space and aeronautical activities and to take appropriate corrective actions as a result of the findings and recommendations.
Webb asked President Lyndon B. Johnson to allow NASA to handle the investigation according to its established procedure, promising to be truthful in assessing blame, and to keep the appropriate leaders of Congress informed. Thompson, which included astronaut Frank Borman , spacecraft designer Maxime Faget , and six others.
Long left the board,  and was replaced by Dr.
Robert W. Van Dolah, of the U. Bureau of Mines. Seamans immediately ordered all Apollo 1 hardware and software impounded, to be released only under control of the board. After thorough stereo photographic documentation of the CM interior, the board ordered its disassembly using procedures tested by disassembling the identical CM, and conducted a thorough investigation of every part. The board also reviewed the astronauts' autopsy results and interviewed witnesses. Seamans sent Webb weekly status reports of the investigation's progress, and the board issued its final report on April 5, According to the Board, Grissom suffered severe third degree burns on over one-third of his body and his spacesuit was mostly destroyed.
White suffered third degree burns on almost half of his body and a quarter of his spacesuit had melted away.
Chaffee suffered third degree burns over almost a quarter of his body and a small portion of his spacesuit was damaged. The autopsy report confirmed that the primary cause of death for all three astronauts was cardiac arrest caused by high concentrations of carbon monoxide. Burns suffered by the crew were not believed to be major factors, and it was concluded that most of them had occurred postmortem. Asphyxiation occurred after the fire melted the astronauts' suits and oxygen tubes, exposing them to the lethal atmosphere of the cabin.
The review board identified several major factors which combined to cause the fire and the astronauts' deaths: . The review board determined that the electrical power momentarily failed at GMT, and found evidence of several electric arcs in the interior equipment.
They were unable to conclusively identify a single ignition source. They determined that the fire most likely started near the floor in the lower left section of the cabin, close to the Environmental Control Unit. The board noted that a silver-plated copper wire, running through an environmental control unit near the center couch, had become stripped of its Teflon insulation and abraded by repeated opening and closing of a small access door.
The electrolysis of ethylene glycol solution with the silver anode was discovered at the Manned Spacecraft Center on May 29, , to be a hazard capable of causing a violent exothermic reaction , igniting the ethylene glycol mixture in the Command Module's pure oxygen atmosphere. Experiments at the Illinois Institute of Technology confirmed the hazard existed for silver-plated wires, but not for copper-only or nickel-plated copper.
In July, ASPO directed both North American and Grumman to ensure no silver or silver-coated electrical contacts existed in the vicinity of possible glycol spills in the Apollo spacecraft. The plugs-out test had been run to simulate the launch procedure, with the cabin pressurized with pure oxygen at the nominal launch level of The high-pressure oxygen atmosphere was similar to that which had been used successfully in the Mercury and Gemini programs.
The pressure before launch was deliberately greater than ambient in order to drive out the nitrogen-containing air and replace it with pure oxygen, and also to seal the plug door hatch cover. The Apollo 1 crew had successfully tested this procedure with their spacecraft in the Operations and Checkout Building altitude vacuum chamber on October 18 and 19, , and the backup crew of Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham had repeated it on December The review board cited "many types and classes of combustible material" close to ignition sources. The NASA crew systems department had installed 34 square feet 3.