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Apollo 1

"We have a fire in the spacecraft." This is the crew photograph of the Apollo 1 crew.
Photo Credit: NASA
Apollo 1
                          Crew PhotoProject Gemini was completed at a blistering pace.  It had accomplished many objectives that would be necessary for a trip to the Moon.

Project Apollo would be the final leg of the race that would actually reach for the Moon.  It was now 1967 and the decade was running out.  President Kennedy's goal of reaching the Moon before the end of the decade was in doubt.


The contractors working on the Apollo spacecraft, the workers at NASA, and the astronauts themselves put in many long hours.  It was a work schedule rushing head-on into burnout and it began to take its toll.

The first manned Apollo mission was designated AS-204.  This mission was supposed to be the shakedown voyage for the new Apollo command and service modules in Earth orbit.

Virgil (Gus) Ivan Grissom was designated as Commander of AS-204.  Grissom was a veteran of two previous spaceflights.  He flew both the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft.  His Gemini mission was also the shakedown voyage for the Gemini spacecraft.

Joining Grissom on AS-204, as Senior Pilot, would be veteran astronaut Edward Higgins White, II.  White flew on Gemini IV and performed the first EVA by an American astronaut.  White was one of the stronger astronauts in the program.  He needed all of his strength to get the Gemini IV hatch closed after his EVA.

On January 22, 1967, Gus Grissom picked a large lemon off of a tree in his backyard.  He intended to hang in on the spacecraft to voice his opinion about the quality of the spacecraft.

On January 27, 1967, at launch pad 34 at the Kennedy Space Center, astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee were sealed inside of their spacecraft for a "plugs out" test.  The spacecraft was pressurized with pure oxygen.  Numerous communication problems were encountered during the test.

Suddenly a spark occurred in the wiring of the spacecraft somewhere below Grissom's feet. In the pure oxygen atmosphere the fire flashed through the spacecraft consuming anything flammable.

The crew struggled to open the hatch of the command module.  It was a complex task that required too much time.  Before they could open the hatch, the fumes given off from the fire asphyxiated them.

Astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee had perished.   They paid the ultimate price in the race for the Moon.  Ironically, they died not in the hazardous environment of space but rather due to an unnecessary hazard created on the Earth.

Perhaps as a premonition Grissom wrote a statement a few weeks before his death about the potential loss of life in the space program.  His statement read: "There will be risks, as there are in any experimental program, and sooner or later, we're going to run head-on into the law of averages and lose somebody.  I hope this never happens, and ... perhaps it never will, but if it does, I hope the American people won't think it's too high a price to pay for our space program."

Apollo mission AS-204 ended in tragedy.  After concerted lobbying by the families, this mission would later be designated as Apollo 1.


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UPDATED : January 6, 2007
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