The fire, which had saved the mission "Apollo"

Fifty years ago, during a test rocket that was to take people to the moon, there was a fire. Three astronauts were killed on the launch pad - but their deaths were not in vain.

January 22, 1967, Cape Canaveral, FL

One of NASA's most famous astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil Grissom, more disappointed in his last mission. And he had every reason to be angry.

The fire, which had saved the mission

A former fighter and test pilot, Grissom was also the second American to go into space (and the third in general). In March 1965 he became the first astronauts who returned to space with a new two-seater spacecraft "Gemini". A year later he was selected as the first commander of the "Apollo" - the spacecraft, designed to eventually bring the crew to the lunar surface and return it safely to Earth.

If all went according to plan, Grissom would head to the moon mission. But so far, however, even a tear "Apollo 1" from the ground has been a problem.

"The flight was literally cursed," said Jerry Griffin, the head of navigation and control systems - later director of flight - mission "Apollo". "When the spacecraft" Apollo 1 "was delivered to Cape Canaveral, he was not in good shape, and had to do a lot of work to bring it in readiness."

The fire, which had saved the mission

The crew of three astronauts had to undergo routine tests

Mission "Apollo" were planned in two phases. "Apollo 1" was the first manned flight in "Block 1". Built by North American Aviation, it was designed to bring a crew of three, and to check a bunch of new systems in orbit around the Earth. Spacecraft "Apollo", able to send astronauts to the Moon, was built in the "Block 2".

"It was an extremely complex spacecraft when compared with everything that they have built before," says Allan Nidell, curator of the "Apollo" at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. "Seeing a lot of repeat tests, some work has been mediocre."

Upon constantly surfaced problems with wiring, coolant leaks, system crashes and glitches life support with radio stations. "They had problems with quality control problems with deadlines, problems with the tests," says Nidell. "By the time capsule was built" Apollo 1 ", they appeared problems with communication - it literally tore the problem."

Even the astronauts thought that the capsule is cursed. "Apollo" program was clearly not in the best shape.

13:00 January 27, 1967, the 34th Launch Complex

The so-called Test Plugs-Out Integrated Test was to be a complete simulation of the launch of "Apollo" under the supervision of the control center at Cape Canaveral and the mission control center in Houston. The only difference between this and this launch was that in the rocket "Saturn", which was the capsule with the crew, there was no fuel.

"It was a dress rehearsal, we were fully staffed," said Griffin, who was at the time of its console in Houston. "We started the countdown, and it was very realistic."

As a commander, Grissom entered the command module and the first took his seat in the left seat. It was followed by Roger Chaffee, who sat to the right, followed by Ed White, who as a command module pilot, took center stage. White distinguished himself during the mission "Gemini-4" in 1965, becoming the first American to have appeared in a space walk. As a Navy pilot of very high qualification, Chaffee was the only newcomer among astronauts.

The fire, which had saved the mission

Almost as soon as they took their seats in the test problems began. By connecting to the system suits the oxygen supply, Grissom reported sour smell, "it smells like buttermilk" and the samples taken and analyzed. There is nothing strange in the air supply was not found, and after an hour and twenty minutes of the hatch of the spacecraft finally tightly closed.

Advanced hatch consisted of three sections - inner section for sealing a space vehicle, the heat shield and the outer fairing door. This external part should be discarded shortly after launch. It took a few minutes to close and check all the components.

When the countdown resumed, the air in the capsule replaced by pure oxygen. Oxygen is maintained at a higher pressure inside the capsule than on the outside. It imitated high pressure spacecraft in orbit and allow the astronauts to breathe freely.

Capsule "Mercury" for one person, the capsule "Gemini" for two - all held the same procedure without any incidents. She was so routine that the spacecraft guide when checking the security said nothing about the danger of tying the crew in the experimental space capsule for oxygen under pressure.

17:40 spacecraft "Apollo 1"

Throughout the day there have been communication problems between the ground and the spacecraft, which was just a few hundred meters from the control center to the launch pad. As soon as the ongoing countdown and more systems connected to a "Apollo 1", at times it becomes impossible to make out what they say astronauts. "I remember that Grissom was very annoyed," Griffin says. "He just went crazy."

"Lord Jesus!" Exclaimed Grissom. "How are we going to get to the moon, if we can not establish a connection between two or three houses?".

The fire, which had saved the mission

After a four-hour sitting on couches in close spacecraft, the countdown again put on hold, as the crew tried to troubleshoot communications and isolate the problem. Finally, at 18:10, everything was ready for the final power cut and run.

18:31 (17:31 local time), the Mission Control Center in Houston

"They stopped to fix the problems, and we have all become, most people went to the break," Griffin says. "For some reason, I left my headphones included and heard a noise, like static, then silence for a split second. And then I heard the word "fire" of the crew, and that was all. "

Officer Manfred von Ehrenfried was at a nearby console. "We could not believe what we hear, - he says. - You heard the same thing I am? Did you hear that? ".

"I called a few guys - says Griffin. - Hey, there's something going on! ".

"I thought, on the launch pad that something has fallen off or something like that," he says. "And in the meantime, everything came back, and it took a few minutes to figure out that there was a fire in the spacecraft."

18:31, Cape Canaveral, the spacecraft "Apollo 1"

"Fire, I smell fire" - this phrase has sounded the first alarm bell that the capsule was something wrong. It was not clear whose voice: Chaffee and White. "Fire in the cockpit."

After a few seconds the fire broke out of their place of occurrence and stretched into the wall on the left side of the module. Flame spread and lifted vertically by the cabin ceiling, scattering of the molten nylon beads with belts and anchorages on the carriage. All subsequent communication was illegible, the only thing that could make out, it is "a terrible fire." The transfer ends a cry of pain. Fifteen seconds after the first reports of a fire, the television cameras at the site indicated as flame fills the command module.

"Then you hear people on the ground trying to save the crew," says Ehrenfried. "And then you start gradually realize that everything is very bad. We did not know how bad, until they heard in the headphones: "We've lost them."

02:00, January 28, 1967

After seven and a half hours after the fire, ground crew finished lifting the remains of a crew capsule and began work fragments screened for the source of fire. vehicle interior resembled a waste incineration plant - every surface is scorched, blackened or melted. Trying to rescue the crew of 27 people on the pad swallowed smoke and two were hospitalized.

The fire, which had saved the mission

In spite of the potential conflict of interest, NASA gave the go-ahead to carry out its own internal investigation into the causes of the incident, with no external political intervention.

The board of inquiry came Bormna astronaut Frank, one of the most experienced astronauts in the world, has recently finished a 14-day mission to the "Gemini 7". Griffin instructed Bormann team to study deficiencies in the spacecraft "Apollo" design.

"Apollo 1" gradually dismantled, trying to isolate the cause of the accident, but I can not detect any source of ignition. "We still do not know what started the fire," Griffin says. "The spacecraft was a temporary wiring could cause a short circuit or spark to slip."

"On the day we found out," Griffin adds, "you can burn anything in the environment of pure oxygen, if there is, where to start." And after the fire in the capsule began to burn a variety of flammable materials, including a stack of papers with checklists, Velcro fastening and nylon mesh. Nidell agrees that oxygen under high pressure was the primary cause of the accident. "They did it with" Mercury "and" Gemini "it is very lucky that nothing happened," he says. "Wire and pitfalls in the" Apollo "was a hundred times more.

April 1967,

Just three months after the accident, a report was published on the investigation into the fire in the "Apollo 1". Despite the fact that its exact cause was never found, the report pointed out weaknesses in the design, manufacture, installation and quality control, as well as errors in the management and testing.

The only consolation that was in prison, was that the astronauts lost consciousness and died from inhaling toxic gases in a few seconds after the message about the fire. The Commission concluded that since the door opened capsule inside the cabin pressure meant that the crew had no chance to open the door and run.

The fire, which had saved the mission

Recommendations included the redesign of the spacecraft, improving quality control and new test procedures and emergencies. "We have come to a much safer spacecraft, which was better," says Griffin. "The event was tragic, but we got through it and found out that part of it was for the best."

Nidell agrees with him: "As a result of this fire, they went back and reviewed every detail of the procedure and that could affect the appearance of the flame," he says. "" Apollo "become much more reliable than it could be if it did not happen."

"Apollo 1" was the last time that a pure oxygen environment was used in a capsule on the ground. Future spacecraft crew had to breathe a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen on the pad and only pure oxygen in space where it represented a lower risk. Since convection in microgravity virtually no fire in space spreads more slowly than on the ground, and it is easier to keep. A few months after the event, which could completely bury the American dream of landing a man on the Moon, "Apollo" program back in operation. On the spacecraft Block-1 did not fly, no crew, but October 11, 1968 the first manned mission, "Apollo 7" went into orbit to test the new command and service module Block-2. And two months later, Bormann led the crew of "Apollo-8" in the mission to enter the orbit of the moon. Seven months later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

"Apollo 1" was a tragic event, but it could also save the program, Griffin said. If similar happened on the way to the moon, the program would definitely turned.

January of 2017

Shortly after the fire, the spacecraft "Apollo 1" has been moved to the NASA Langley facility in Virginia. He remains there to this day, parsed and stored in a container with controlled atmosphere.

If you look at the state of "Apollo" program in January 1967 - the shortcomings and failures of the capsule in the control of quality and safety procedures - the loss of three astronauts seems almost inevitable. But it could have been much worse. Many more people are likely to be killed if the accident occurred when completely fueled rocket.

Since then, the fire killed two NASA crew. In 1986, the seven astronauts killed when the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded shortly after launch. In 2003, seven more died when "Columbia" broke up when re-entering. Although both of the disaster have been learned valuable lessons tragedy "Apollo 1" remains relevant to this day, because developing a new capsule - "Orion".

"serious quality control procedures and management a priority," says Nidell. "Spacecraft," Orion ", NASA developed which now is a process of reverse engineering on the basis of a plurality of the lessons learned in the era of" Apollo ". It would be completely illogical not to take into account the changes made as a result of the fire.

The fire, which had saved the mission

There is a more profound cultural heritage "Apollo", which is part of the tragedy of "Apollo 1". "The program" Apollo "became a symbol of" able "at the time - says Nidell. - If we can put a man on the moon, why we can not solve the energy crisis? Or cure cancer? It was a symbol of a time when collective action can be organized even to achieve such a difficult goal, like landing on the moon. "

It is important that we continue to learn from these lessons and continue space exploration. Before his death, Grissom began writing a memoir about the space program.

"If we die, we want people to have taken it," he wrote. "We are running the risk and hope that if us that something will happen, it will not serve the cause of the delay program. Space exploration is worth the risk to life. "