Source: This document taken from the Report of Apollo 204 Review Board
NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Office, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

NASA Office of the Administrator


To: Mr. James E. Webb
From: Dr. Robert C. Seamans, Jr.
Deputy Administrator
Subject: Report on Apollo 204 Review Board Discussions

I spent yesterday at the Kennedy Space Center with the Apollo Review Board and other key personnel involved in the current investigation of the causes and circumstances of the Apollo 204 accident.

First, there has been no determination of the specific cause of the fire that resulted in the deaths of Lt. Colonel Grissom, Lt. Colonel White, and Lt. Commander Chaffee. The retracing of possible, and then of probable, chains of events in such an accident is a complex task that is demanding the complete attention of the Review Board headed by Dr. Floyd Thompson, of the assistants and consultants to the Board, and of many of the elements of government, industry, and universities involved in the Apollo program.

The Board is taking full advantage of the extensive taped data available as well as records made prior to the accident, the present condition of the spacecraft, and the reports of those involved in the test. All the physical evidence and data concerned with the test were impounded immediately following the accident. This was to assure that no pertinent information would be lost and that no actions would be taken except in the full context of all the data available.

As I have stated, the preliminary review of this information has not provided any direct indication of the origin of the fire; the preliminary analyses point to the conclusion that a clear identification of the source of ignition or of its possible source will depend upon detailed step-by-step examination of the entire spacecraft and its related test support equipment.

At present, the spacecraft is still mated to the unfueled launch vehicle at the pad. However, it is being prepared for removal to our industrial area where it will be disassembled and where experts in many technical and scientific areas can work with the physical evidence. Prior to disassembly of the damaged spacecraft, an undamaged and nearly identical (#014) spacecraft will be used to establish the conditions existing prior to the accident. The 014 spacecraft was flown from the North American plant in California to Cape Kennedy on February 1.

The current plans are to go through a parallel, step-by-step disassembly process, first working on the undamaged vehicle and then repeating as closely as possible the procedure on the damaged vehicle.

In addition to analyses of recorded and physical data and equipment, the Board is defining a series of investigative tasks and is assigning these to teams for execution. For example, a team is charged with the chemical and spectrographic analysis of damaged elements aimed at identifying the propagative history of the fire. Another is working on relating the propagation history to the flammability characteristics of the spacecraft materials. Another is dealing with design analyses and experimental tests to help establish possible ignition sources. As work progresses and a pattern of information emerges, additional tasks, analyses, and reviews will undoubtedly be instituted by the Board.

From information now available to the Board, I had an opportunity to learn more about certain specific aspects of the simulated mission and the test sequence itself than we had previously had before us in a clearly related pattern.

The official death certificates for all three crew members list the cause of death as asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation due to the fire.

I would like to emphasize that this report is based on preliminary information. This information has not yet been extensively analyzed by the Apollo Review Board under Dr. Thompson. Since the data were recorded at a number of different stations, the time sequences may not be perfectly synchronized, possibly giving rise to errors of one or two seconds.

During my meetings with the Board a number of other items of information were discussed but I believe that the data I have outlined include all events having a significant bearing on an understanding of the accident.

Robert C. Seamans, Jr.


Updated February 3, 2003
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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