Part 1 (E)

Preparation for Flight, the Accident, and Investigation

January 1967


January 3

B. Kaskey, Bellcomm, Inc., gave NASA Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips three reasons why an AS-204 rescue of or rendezvous with a biosatellite would be impracticable:

  1. The Block I spacecraft hatch was not designed to open and reseal in space, therefore no extravehicular activity could be planned for AS-204.
  2. The launch window for 204 was five hours on each day, set by lighting available for launch aborts and normal recovery; rendezvous would reduce the launch window to minutes.
  3. More than half of the reaction control system propellant was committed because of the requirement that deorbit be possible on every orbit without use of the service propulsion system.
Phillips sent the information to ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea at MSC.

Note, Kaskey to Phillips, NASA Hq., "Working Note," Jan. 3, 1967.

January 4

An MSC meeting selected a Flight Operations Directorate position on basic factors of the first lunar landing mission phase and initiated a plan by which the Directorate would inform other organizations of the factors and the operational capabilities of combining them into alternate lunar surface mission plans.

Flight Operations Director Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., conducted the discussion, with Rodney G. Rose, Carl Kovitz, Morris V. Jenkins, William E. Platt, James E. Hannigan, Bruce H. Walton, and William L. Davidson participating.

The major factors (philosophy) identified at the meeting were:

Other less important factors were discussed and several action items were assigned: Rose would be responsible for successful implementation of plans resulting from the meeting. Hannigan would determine the LM, portable life support system, and ALSEP systems constraints and determine if the ALSEP weight allowance could be beneficially applied to LM consumables. The Operations Analysis Branch would investigate the MSFN support.

Memo, Chief, Operations Analysis Br., MSC, to Chief, Flight Control Div., MSC, "Operations viewpoint on first lunar surface mission plan," Jan. 5, 1967.

January 4

Charles A. Berry, MSC Director of Medical Research and Operations, proposed establishment of an MSC management program for control of hazardous spacecraft materials, to provide confidence for upcoming long- duration Apollo missions while simultaneously saving overall costs. Berry pointed out that no unified program for control of potentially toxic or flammable spacecraft materials existed and, in the past, individual Program Offices had established their own acceptance criteria for toxological safety and fire hazards.

Memo, Berry to Deputy Director, MSC, "Management Program for Control of Hazardous Spacecraft Materials," Jan. 4, 1967.

January 4

Director of Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD) Donald K. Slayton discussed the 2TV-1 (thermal vacuum test article) manned test program in a letter to the ASPO Manager. Pointing out that FCOD was providing an astronaut crew for the vacuum test program in support of the AS-258 mission, Slayton said the FCOD objective was to test and evaluate crew equipment, stowage, and system operations procedures planned for Block II flights. Slayton acknowledged that this objective was not identical with ASPO's requirement for thermal and vacuum verification of integrated system design, but felt that it was of equal importance and should be given equal priority in planning the test. To achieve the FCOD objective, he requested that specific conditions be met in spacecraft configuration, test planning, and test conduct.

Ltr., Slayton to Manager, ASPO, "2TV-1 Manned Test Program," Jan. 4, 1967.

January 10

Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips told NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller that studies had been completed on the use of "direct translunar injection" (launch directly into a trajectory to the moon) as a mode of operation for lunar landing missions. The principal advantages would be potential payload increases and elimination of the S-IVB stage restart requirement. The disadvantage was that there would be no usable launch windows for about half of each year and a reduced number of windows for the remainder of the year. Phillips was confident the launch vehicle would have adequate payload capability, since Saturn V performance continued to exceed spacecraft requirements. Confidence in successful S-IVB restarts was also high. For the lunar missions, therefore, direct launch was considered as a fall-back position and the effort was concentrating on the parking orbit mode.

Ltr., Phillips to Mueller, "Saturn V Direct Lunar Injection," Jan. 10, 1967.

January 12

The NASA Western Support Office, Santa Monica, Calif., reported two accidents at North American plants, with no personal injuries:

Memo, William E. Lilly, NASA Hq., to George E. Mueller, NASA Hq., "Incident Reports: Damage to the Command Module 2S-1 and S-II-5 Interstage," Jan. 23, 1967.

January 19

Testing of CSM 012 at Downey, Calif., and KSC revealed numerous failures in the communications cable assembly caused by broken wiring, bent pins, and connector malfunctions. Certain design deficiencies in the system had been remedied by adding adapter cables in series with the cobra cable, but these additions had resulted in additional weak points in the system and in an unacceptably cumbersome cable assembly connected to crew members. For these reasons, Donald K. Slayton, Director of Flight Crew Operations, ruled the existing communications assembly unsafe for flight and requested that the biomedical tee adapter, cobra cable, sleep adapter, and noise eliminator be combined into one new cobra cable for CSM 012.

Memo, Slayton to Manager, ASPO, "Communications cables for Spacecraft 012," Jan. 18, 1967.

January 20

The Saturn 503 S-IVB stage exploded and was destroyed at the Douglas Sacramento, Calif., Test Facility at 4:25 p.m. PST during a countdown. The exercise had progressed to 10 seconds before simulated launch (about 8 minutes before S-IVB ignition) when the explosion occurred. Earlier that day the countdown had progressed to about 6 minutes past simulated launch when a problem with the GSE computer tape carrier head required a hold and a recycling in the countdown. No one was injured.

A Douglas Aircraft Company investigating team under Jack Bromberg started operations the next morning, and an MSFC-appointed investigating board chaired by Kurt Debus, KSC, began operating three days after the accident.

TWX, MSFC to addressees, "Explosion of S-IVB-503 Stage," Jan. 23, 1967.

January 23

The Lunar Mission Planning Board held its first meeting at MSC. Present, in addition to Chairman Robert R. Gilruth, were Charles A. Berry, Maxime A. Faget, George M. Low, Robert O. Piland, Wesley L. Hjornevik, and acting secretary William E. Stoney, Jr., all of MSC. Principal subject of discussion was the photography obtained by Lunar Orbiter I and Lunar Orbiter II and application of this photography to Apollo site selection. The material was presented by John Eggleston and Owen Maynard, both of MSC. Orbiter I had obtained medium-resolution photography of sites on the southern half of the Apollo area of interest; Orbiter II had obtained both medium- and high-resolution photographs of sites toward the northern half of the area. Several action items were assigned, with progress to be reported at the next meeting, including a definition of requirements for a TV landing aid for the lunar module and a report on landing-site-selection restraints based on data available from Lunar Orbiter I and II only, and another on data from Lunar Orbiter I, II, and III.

Minutes of the Lunar Mission Planning Board, Jan. 23, 1967.

January 26

Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips sent a message to the manned space flight Centers indicating that he wanted to supplement the findings of the S-IVB Accident Investigation Board with a review by the Crew Safety Panel of the possible impact on manned Apollo flights. He requested Crew Safety Panel members and any other necessary crew safety representatives to go to Sacramento, Calif., immediately, review the 20 January accident, and answer a number of questions:

  1. What would have happened if a crew had been on board the space vehicle at the time of the accident?
  2. What feasible methods were there within existing system capabilities to escape such an explosion? What other escape methods might be evolved beyond existing system capabilities?
  3. How would the EDS (emergency detection system) have functioned if the accident had occurred on a manned flight? Should there be any changes to the EDS?
  4. Should any changes be made to AS-204 to increase the probability of a safe escape?
Phillips said the panel's recommendations were needed by February 6 to help assess any impact on AS-204 and subsequent flights.

TWX, NASA Hq. to addressees, "S-IVB Stage Accident Investigation," Jan. 26, 1967.

January 27

Representatives of 62 nations signed the space law treaty, "Treaty on Principles Covering the Activities of the States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies," at separate ceremonies in Washington, London, and Moscow. The treaty, which limited military activities in space, had been agreed upon by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. December 8, 1966, and unanimously approved by the United Nations General Assembly December 19. It was to become effective when ratified by the U.S., U.S.S.R., United Kingdom, and two other countries.

Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1967 (NASA SP-4008, 1968), p. 23; and text of treaty.

January 27

Fire sweeping through command module 012 atop its Saturn IB launch vehicle at Launch Complex 34, KSC, took the lives of the three-man crew scheduled for the first manned Apollo space flight.

Command module 012 after AS-204 fire (exterior)

Effects of the flash fire on CM 012, photographed shortly after the fatal January 27, 1967, Apollo 204 accident: exterior of the command module.

ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea sent a flash report to NASA Hq.: "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 modules." The launch had been scheduled for February 21.

The Director, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, was alerted during late evening and informed that the accident had taken the lives of astronauts Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee.

Later that evening a request for autopsy support was received and three pathologists and a medical photographer were sent to Cape Kennedy on an Air Force aircraft. Team members were Col. Edward H. Johnston, USA; Cdr. Charles J. Stahl, USN; Capt. Latimer E. Dunn, USAF; and T/Sgt Larry N. Hale, USAF.

The postmortem examinations began at 11 a.m. January 28 at the USAF Bioastronautic Operational Support Unit and were completed at 1 a.m. the following day.

TWX, Shea to NASA Hq., Attn: Apollo Program Director, Jan. 28, 1967; Append. D, "Panel 11," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Apr. 5, 1967, p. D-11-13.

January 28

The Apollo 204 Review Board was established by NASA's Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., to investigate the Apollo 204 accident that had killed the 204 prime crew January 27. The Board would report to the NASA Administrator.

Appointed to the Board were:

George Malley, Chief Counsel, LaRC, was named to serve as counsel to the Board.

The Board was told it could call upon any element of NASA for support, assistance, and information, and was instructed to:

Memo for the Apollo 204 Review Board from Seamans, Jan. 28, 1967.

January 28

The Chairman and several members of the Apollo 204 Review Board assembled at KSC and met with NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips, and other personnel from NASA Hq., KSC, and MSC. The officials were given a quick appraisal of circumstances surrounding the January 27 accident and actions taken after the fire. The meeting was followed by an initial general session of the Board in the Mission Briefing Room, an area assigned to the Board to conduct its business. The Board adjourned to visit the scene of the accident, Launch Complex 34, and then reconvened to plan the review.

"Board Proceedings," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Apr. 5, 1967, p. 3-13.

January 29

Astronaut Frank Borman briefed the Apollo 204 Review Board after his inspection of the damaged command and service modules. A main purpose of the inspection was to verify the position of circuit breakers and switches. In other major activities that day, the Pyrotechnic Installation Building was assigned to the Board to display the debris and spacecraft components after removal from Launch Complex 34; the Board began interviewing witnesses; and the Board Chairman asked NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller for assistance in obtaining flame propagation experts to assist the Board. Experts might be obtained from Lewis Research Center, the Bureau of Mines, and the Federal Aviation Agency. The Board Chairman established an ad hoc committee to organize task panels to make the accident investigation systematically. The committee was composed of John J. Williams, KSC; E. Barton Geer, LaRC; Charles W. Mathews, NASA, Hq.; John F. Yardley, McDonnell Aircraft Corp.; George Jeffs, North American Aviation, Inc.; and Charles F. Strang, USAF.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-13.

January 30

Robert W. Van Dolah of the Bureau of Mines, I. Irving Pinkel of Lewis Research Center, and Thomas G. Horeff of the Federal Aviation Agency joined the Apollo 204 Review Board as consultants. Membership of the special ad hoc committee established January 29 to recommend special panels for the investigation was changed to Frank Borman and Maxime A. Faget, both of MSC; Charles W. Mathews, NASA Hq.; George Jeffs, North American Aviation, Inc.; John F. Yardley, McDonnell Aircraft Corp.; and John J. Williams, KSC, Chairman. Mathews outlined 19 recommended panels and the work objectives of each. A Board member was assigned to monitor each panel and to serve as a focal point through which the panels would report to the Board. Lt. Col. James W. Rawers (USAF) of the Range Safety Division Analysis Section presented an oral report on what Air Force Eastern Test Range personnel saw at the time of the accident. In other activities that day Faget introduced Alfred D. Mardel, MSC, who presented a briefing on data and sequence of events.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-14.

January 31

Col. Charles F. Strang advised the Apollo 204 Review Board of an accident in an altitude chamber at Brooks Air Force Base, Tex., that morning. A flash fire had swept the oxygen-filled pressure chamber, killing Airman 2/C William F. Bartley, Jr., and Airman 3/C Richard G. Harmon. Col. Strang presented a short briefing on the circumstances and was asked by Chairman Floyd Thompson to provide follow-up information.

Lt. Col. William D. Baxter, Air Force Eastern Test Range representative to the Board, advised the group of existing Apollo spacecraft hazards, including:

An engineering review was made of these hazards and it was agreed that these items must be removed before any work could proceed.

In other actions on January 31, the Chairman of Panel 4, Disassembly Activities, briefed the Board on the Spacecraft Debris Removal Plan and the group approved the plan to the point of removing the astronauts' couches. In addition, Panel 19, Safety of Investigation Operations, was formed.

"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-14, 3-15; Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1967 (NASA SP-4008, 1968), p. 29.

January 31

A TWX from NASA Headquarters to MSC, MSFC, and KSC ordered checkout and launch preparation of AS-501 to proceed as planned, except that the CM would not be pressurized in an oxygen environment pending further direction. If AS-501 support, facility, or work force should conflict with the activities of the AS-204 Review Board, the Board would be given priority.

TWX, Samuel C. Phillips to MSC, MSFC, and KSC, Jan. 31, 1967.

January 31

Funeral services were held for the Apollo crewmen who died in the January 27 spacecraft 012 (Apollo 204 mission) flash fire at Cape Kennedy. All three were buried with full military honors: Virgil I. Grissom (Lt. Col., USAF), and Roger B. Chaffee (Lt. Cdr., USN), in Arlington, Va., National Cemetery; and Edward H. White II (Lt. Col., USAF), at West Point, N.Y. Memorial services had been held in Houston January 29 and 30.

Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1967 (NASA SP-4008, 1968), pp. 27, 29.

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