Apollo 1, the tragedy that took us to the Moon
The Apollo 1 mission was made up of astronauts Virgil Ivan Gus Grissom, Edward Higgins White (the first American to walk in space) and Roger Bruce Chaffee. All three were aware that, as pioneers of a new generation of spaceflight, they were taking a risk.
Unfortunately, something unexpected happened on January 27, 1967, that day just one more stage in the training routine: a kind of dress rehearsal, with the aim of disconnecting the ground systems to verify that Command Module 012 , named Apollo 1, could be self-sufficient in energy. There was no fuel or explosive bolts. There was no danger. At 1:00 in the afternoon, the three astronauts boarded their ship without imagining that they would not leave it alive.
It all happened in less than half a minute. At 6:31:04 pm, one of the astronauts sounded the alarm about a fire that had broken out in the cabin. Confused screams followed, and the television image showed White trying to open the hatch as flames swept across the image. At 6:31:22 the transmission was cut off. The fire was so violent that it broke through the wall of the module, affecting the platform and expelling a dense smoke that delayed access to the cabin for five minutes. All three astronauts had already died. It took 90 minutes to extract the bodies from the charred remains.
It was an unfortunate accumulation of flaws that triggered the tragedy. First of all, the cabin was filled with flammable materials, mainly nylon netting and Velcro, items intended for storage. Even the astronauts’ pressure suits were made of nylon. All of this could ignite even more easily in the pure oxygen atmosphere that filled the module.
Naturally, the Apollo 1 disaster put an end to this resistance to change. There was strong concern at NASA about fail-safe design, and the modules of the Apollo program intended to fly to the Moon incorporated radical improvements.