Friday, January 27, 2017

Another American Tragedy

Fifty years ago today, three American heroes died while working to make
John F. Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon, a reality.

Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts during a routine test on the launchpad. The accident shocked NASA as the agency was rushing to meet President Kennedy's 1961 challenge to have men on the moon by the end of the decade. 
The test was a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 1 crew — Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The ultimate goal was to check out the command module, NASA's first three-man spacecraft that would take astronauts to the moon. 
The crew was rehearsing the real launch, which was about a month away. They were suited up and in the capsule running through checklists and testing equipment. 
But something sparked in the oxygen-rich environment. Within seconds, the capsule filled with flames, smoke and toxic gases... 
Only 21 months later, NASA sent humans back into space aboard Apollo 7. And less than a year after that, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon. 
FiftyAstronaut Michael Collins was also on that mission. He says if the fire on Apollo 1 hadn't happened, it's likely a similar accident would have occurred in space — and that could have led to the program's cancellation. 
"Without it, very likely, we would have not landed on the moon as the president had wished by the end of the decade," Collins says.

Ironically, Grissom had previous experience with a poorly designed hatch system that nearly cost him his life just a few years earlier. Worth noting: Grissom's reputation as a "hatch-blower" seems to have been resolved in his favor. Here is an excerpt from "This Space Available" blog:

Astronaut Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom is inserted into his Liberty Bell 7 capsule on the morning of July 21, 1961. 
He would soon be embroiled in a controversy that lingers to this day.  Photo Credit: NASA
An interesting coda to the Liberty Bell 7 story occurred during another Mercury mission. Over a year later, Wally Schirra flew the program's flawless third orbital mission, Sigma 7, in October 1962. At the end of Schirra's flight, he further vindicated Grissom's story about the hatch blowing independently of any intervention. Burgess' book, Liberty Bell 7: The Suborbital Mercury Flight of Virgil I. Grissomdiscusses this at length, and also contains testimonies by fellow Mercury astronaut Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and NASA aeronautical engineer Sam Beddingfield that Grissom would have had a deep bone-bruise on his hand had he manually blown the hatch.

Heros all.

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