Part 1 (E)
Preparation for Flight, the Accident, and Investigation
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:
Phillips sent the information to ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea at MSC.
- The Block I spacecraft hatch was not designed to open and reseal in
space, therefore no extravehicular activity could be planned for AS-204.
- 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.
- 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.
Note, Kaskey to Phillips, NASA Hq., "Working Note," Jan. 3,
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
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
- "The astronauts should be provided with an extravehicular
(EVA) timeline framework and objectives and then be given real time
control of their own activities. This approach should better
accommodate the first lunar surface unknowns than if rigorous activity
control were attempted from earth."
- "The LM should always be in a position to get back into lunar
orbit in the minimum time. Specifically the merits and feasibility of
maintaining the LM platform powered up and aligned should be evaluated.
Any other LM systems requiring start up time after powering down should
- "The constraints affecting the minimum time required to turn
around and launch after LM landing and the time line should be
determined. This time was estimated to two CSM orbits. The effects of
Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN) support should be considered."
- The first EVA should be allocated to LM post landing inspection,
immediate lunar sample collection, lunar environment familiarization,
photographic documentation, and astronaut exploration prerogatives. Any
second EVA would include deployment of ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface
Experiments Package) and a more systematic geological survey.
Therefore, a mission nominally planned for only one EVA would not have
to include an ALSEP in the payload. Any flight operations benefits
resulting from deletion of the ALSEP weight and deployment operations
(such as replacing weight with more fuel) must be
Memo, Chief, Operations Analysis Br., MSC, to Chief, Flight Control
Div., MSC, "Operations viewpoint on first lunar surface mission
plan," Jan. 5, 1967.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Apollo CM 2S-1 - being hoisted into a cradled position at North
American Aviation's Space and Information Systems Division, Downey,
Calif. - was dropped 1.8 meters onto a concrete floor Jan. 12. The first
report was that the CM apparently suffered considerable damage.
- The S-II-5 interstage received possible structural damage when the
protective metal roof covering of a handling fixture was struck during
the swing opening of the six-story east door of Station 9 at the Seal
Beach plant. The structural connections of the handling fixture to the
interstage indicated damage. The S-II-5 interstage had been improperly
parked within the swing opening of the east door.
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
Memo, Slayton to Manager, ASPO, "Communications cables for
Spacecraft 012," Jan. 18, 1967.
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
TWX, MSFC to addressees, "Explosion of S-IVB-503 Stage," Jan.
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.
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:
Phillips said the panel's recommendations were needed by February 6 to
help assess any impact on AS-204 and subsequent flights.
- What would have happened if a crew had been on board the space
vehicle at the time of the accident?
- 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?
- 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?
- Should any changes be made to AS-204 to increase the probability of
a safe escape?
TWX, NASA Hq. to addressees, "S-IVB Stage Accident
Investigation," Jan. 26, 1967.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
- Floyd L. Thompson, Director Langley Research Center, Chairman.
- Frank Borman, astronaut, MSC.
- Maxime A. Faget, Director of Engineering and Development, MSC.
- E. Barton Geer, Associate Chief of Flight Vehicles and Systems
- George Jeffs, Chief Engineer, Apollo, North American Aviation, Inc.
- Frank A. Long, President's Science Advisory Committee member, Vice
President for Research and Advanced Studies, Cornell University.
- Col. Charles F. Strang, USAF, Chief of Missiles and Space Safety
Division, Air Force Inspector General, Norton Air Force Base, Calif.
- George C. White, Jr., Director, Reliability and Quality, Apollo
Program Office, NASA Hq.
- John Williams, Director of Spacecraft Operations, KSC.
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.
- Review the circumstances surrounding the accident to establish the
probable cause or causes and review the findings, corrective actions,
and recommendations being developed by the program offices, field
Centers, and contractors.
- Direct any further specific investigations necessary.
- Report its findings on the cause of the accident to the NASA
Administrator as expeditiously as possible and release the information
through the Office of Public Affairs.
- Consider the impact of the accident on all Apollo equipment
preparation, testing, and flight operations.
- Consider all other factors related to the accident, including design
procedures, organization, and management.
- Develop recommendations for corrective or other action based upon
its findings and determinations.
- Document its findings, determinations, and recommendations and
submit a final report to the Administrator, which would not be released
without his approval.
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.
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.
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.
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,
An engineering review was made of these hazards and it was agreed that
these items must be removed before any work could proceed.
- high-pressure oxygen bottles that might be pressurized to 335
newtons per square centimeter (485 pounds per square inch) and be
subject to embrittlement;
- pyrotechnics on the service module; and
- a launch escape system with a 40-kilonewton (9,000-pound-thrust)
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
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-14, 3-15; Astronautics and
Aeronautics, 1967 (NASA SP-4008, 1968), p. 29.
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
TWX, Samuel C. Phillips to MSC, MSFC, and KSC, Jan. 31, 1967.
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.