Picture of Apollo 1 spacecraft
The Apollo space program, scheduled for its first launch on Feb. 21, 1967, started in tragedy. On Jan. 27, 1967, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were executing a dress rehearsal when fire was smelled in the command module.
Caused by a spark due to faulty electrical wiring, the fire spread rapidly in the oxygen rich air within the capsule. It then burned the walls of the command module, releasing toxic fumes. Meanwhile, technicians outside needed more than five minutes to open the elaborate escape hatch, too late to rescue the astronauts trapped inside. Autopsies later revealed that the astronauts had died of carbon monoxide asphyxiation.
The investigation which followed showed that poor planning and design were to blame for the Apollo 1 disaster, and further Apollo missions had to be postponed for over a year as necessary safety improvements were made. The Apollo 1 tragedy lead to a reduction in flammable materials in the command module, space suits made of fireproof materials, and the development of a rapid releasing hatch.
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