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Apollo 1 Burned-out Apollo 1 module.
Mishaps of the Space Age
1967: Apollo 1

In January, three American astronauts, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, underwent a training exercise in the Apollo 1 command module. During the procedure, a spark ignited some nylon netting, and a fire quickly spread. Poisonous carbon monoxide fumes filled the spacecraft, asphyxiating all three astronauts.

Unfortunately, NASA had chosen to use the spacecraft's pure-oxygen system during the test. In the weightless environment of space, such a system would not have posed a fire hazard, as any flame would have been quickly smothered by its own combustion gases. But at ground level the pure oxygen only fanned the flames. After the tragedy, NASA made two simple modifications to its spacecraft: an emergency escape hatch and a two-gas system to dilute the oxygen and nitrogen during ground tests.

Soyuz 1
Vladimir Komarov Vladimir Komarov, first man to be killed in spaceflight.

Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov flew into orbit aboard the Soyuz 1. His mission was to dock with another Soyuz spacecraft, but one of the two solar panels that supplied energy for the maneuver refused to deploy. Soviet ground controllers canceled the launch of the second craft and ordered Komarov to abandon his mission. He promptly complied, but on his return through the atmosphere, his main parachute failed to open, and his reserve parachute became tangled. The spacecraft struck the ground at high speed, killing Komarov, the first man to die in space flight.

Soyuz-1 Soyuz-1 spacecraft crashed and burning on ground.

Continue: 1969

Photos: (1) NASA; (2,3) courtesy of the Ultimax Group, Inc. and VideoCosmos, Ltd.

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