27 January 1967 - The Accident
"During a simulated countdown for mission AS-204 on January 27, 1967, an accident
occurred in CM 012. This was a manned test with the prime astronaut crew on
board. A fire occurred inside the command module resulting in the death of the
three astronauts and as yet undetermined damage to the command and service
With these words, the nation's space program
was split into two classifications: Pre-Fire and Post-Fire.
27 January 1967
The spacecraft, towering over 210 feet into the sky(2),
sat on the launch pad at Launch Complex 34 on the Cape Canaveral Air Station.
At 1 PM EST, the crew entered the spacecraft. Command Pilot Grissom entered
first followed by Pilot Roger Chaffee and Senior Pilot Edward White II. Within
twenty minutes the test was halted due to the report of an odor in the
Spacecraft Environmental Control System suit oxygen loop. A sample of the
oxygen was taken but no final cause was determined. Subsequent analysis
determined that this problem was not related to the fire.
At 4:25 PM, the crew first noticed a problem with communications, determined to
be a live microphone that could not be turned off. At 4:40 PM the count was
again held for troubleshooting of the condition. During the hold, further
communication problems developed between various ground stations and the crew.
All countdown functions up to transfer to fuel cell power had been completed by
6:20 PM and the count was held again to work on the communication difficulties.
There were multiple indications of intense movement beginning at 6:30:39 PM. A
surge in the AC Bus 2 voltage was recorded at 6:30:54 PM. At 6:31:04 PM, Roger
suddenly called out "Fire!" Considerable movement was noted indicating Gus'
attempts to put out the fire, located just below and to the left of his couch.
Through the monitors, arms were seen reaching for the hatch - certainly Ed
whose job it was to open the hatch in an emergency. Then another call came:
"Fire in the cockpit! "We've got a bad fire - we're burning up!" - certainly
Roger who remained in his couch to communicate with the ground as it was his
job to maintain contact in an emergency. All three of these men, facing a
horrible death, did exactly what they were supposed to do. By 6:31:21, all
voice transmissions had stopped. They had only had 17 seconds from the first
call of fire. Gus, Ed, and Roger were gone. "When we returned to our homes that
night, we were changed in ways none of us could describe."
The Command Module had ruptured at 6:31:19, endangering the personnel on Levels A-7 and A-8 who nevertheless remained, fighting to open the three hatches (BPC, ablative hatch, and inward-opening inner hatch) and to put out secondary fires. The hatches were finally opened approximately five minutes after the initial report of the fire. This report would not be complete without mention of the pad personnel who risked their lives attempting to rescue the crew in circumstances indicative of imminent explosion of the spacecraft. Steve Clemmons, Donald Babbitt, James Gleaves, Jerry Hawkins, and LD Reese were joined on Level A-8 by Henry Rogers in the fight to open the hatch while smoke and flames blew around them. In all, 27 men were treated for smoke inhalation. We applaud their heroism.
"So long as we remember, the crew lives; so long as the crew lives, our future
is secure for only when our heroes are forgotten and the light of their
sacrifices goes out, will the new Dark Age fall."
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