Cape Kennedy, FL Apollo 1 Astronauts Killed During Test, Jan 1967
THREE ASTRONAUTS KILLED -- BOARD WILL PROBE CAUSE OF TRAGEDY.
Cape Kennedy, Fla. (AP) -- Investigators poked today through the charred hulk of the Apollo 1 moonship, seeking the cause of a searing flash fire that turned it into a death trap for three of the nation's spacemen.
A team led by Maj. Gen. Samuel Phillips, Apollo program director, began a preliminary search for clues to the disaster that stalled perhaps for months the U.S. drive for a landing on the moon.
A formal board of inquiry was to convene later, headed by Dr. Floyd Thompson, director of NASA's Langley Research Center.
One and one-half miles from Pad 34, site of Friday night's first great spacecraft tragedy, the bodies of astronauts VIRGIL I. (GUS) GRISOM, EDWARD H. WHITE II and ROGER B. CHAFFEE lay in an infirmary.
They were practicing for a two-week space mission the first of the Apollo flights which will culminate in the lunar landing, when the hot blaze snuffed out their lives in an instant.
Grimly, space officials said they would push on with the program, but the holocaust which capped a long series of troubles with the Apollo spacecraft will call for a soul-searching look before other lives are risked.
And Rep. Charles A. Mosher of Ohio, second-ranking Republican member of the House Science and Astronautics Committee, said it was
"inevitable" that safety procedures will be reviewed in Washington.
Apollo, first scheduled to blast off before the end of last year, has been plagued by malfunctions.
During the final checkout and testing of Apollo 1, many changes and modifications were made.
Not a word came from the astronauts when the fire flash ripped into the explosive pure oxygen atmosphere of the spacecraft. Death, said space officials, was instantaneous.
Two victims of the holocaust on Pad 34 were space veterans, the other a rookie.
The 40-year-old GRISSOM flew in Mercury and Gemini programs, helping blaze the first American trails in space. WHITE, 36, was the first U.S. astronaut to leave his ship and became a human satellite. CHAFFEE, 31, was training for his launch.
Someday, every dpaceman knew in his heart, it was bound to happen. It was too much to hope that the perilous route to the moon could be traveled without loss of life.
But when it came, they thought, it would be in the far reaches of space, not this way.
Going through a full-scale simulation of the launch that was to carry them aloft Feb. 21 for a two-week ride, GRISSOM, WHITE and CHAFFEE were trapped in the spacecraft when it was swept by the flash fire.
No word came over the monitors, said Paul Haney, voice of the astronauts. Apparently, all three died instantly from heat or asphyxiation.
The emergency escape system was closed to them, because the entire craft was locked in a protective gantry.
Fire hot enough to ignite metal seared and blackened the spaceship. Bodies of the astronauts were badly charred.
"Three valiant young men have given their lives in the nation's service," said a shocked and saddened
President Johnson. "We mourn this great loss and our hearts go out to their families."
Twenty-seven launch pad crewmen were overcome by smoke in futile efforts to get through to the astronauts. Two were hospitalized.