Mishaps of the Space Age
Burned-out Apollo 1 module.
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
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.
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.
Vladimir Komarov, first man to be killed in spaceflight.
Soyuz-1 spacecraft crashed and burning on ground.
Photos: (1) NASA; (2,3) courtesy of the Ultimax Group, Inc. and VideoCosmos, Ltd.
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