Reaction at KSC

During the ensuing months, NASA took many steps to prevent future disasters. It gave top priority to a redesigned hatch, a single-hinged door that swung outward with only one-half pound of force. An astronaut could unlatch the door in three seconds. The hatch had a push-pull unlatching handle, a window for visibility in flight, a plunger handle inside the command module to unlatch a segment of the protective cover, a pull loop that permitted someone outside to unlatch the protective cover, and a counterbalance that would hold the door open.79 NASA revised flight schedules. An unmanned Saturn V would go up in late 1967, but the manned flight of the backup crew for the Grissom team - Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham - would not be ready before the following May or June.80 In the choice of materials for space suits, NASA settled on a new flame-proof material called "Beta Cloth" instead of nylon. Within the spacecraft, technicians covered exposed wires and plumbing to preclude inadvertent contact, redesigned wire bundles and harness routings, and increased fire protection.

Initially, NASA administrators said they would stay with oxygen as the atmosphere in the spacecraft. But after a year and a half of testing, NASA was to settle on a formula of 60% oxygen and 40% nitrogen. NASA provided a spacecraft mockup at KSC for training the rescue and the operational teams. At complex 34 technicians put a fan in the white room to ventilate any possible smoke. They added water hoses and fire extinguishers and an escape slide wire. Astronauts and workers could ride down this wire during emergencies, reaching the ground from a height of over 60 meters in seconds.81

NASA safety officers were instructed to report directly to the center director. At Kennedy this procedure had been the practice for some time. A Headquarters decision also extended the responsibilities of the Flight Safety Office at Kennedy. Test conductors and all others intimately involved with the development of the spacecraft and its performance sent every change in procedure to the Flight Safety Office for approval.82

The fire had a significant impact on KSC's relations with the spacecraft contractors. When KSC had absorbed Houston's Florida Operations team in December 1964, the launch center was supposed to have assumed direction of the spacecraft contractors at the Cape. The North American and Grumman teams at KSC, however, had continued to look to their home offices, and indirectly to Houston, for guidance. This ended in the aftermath of LC-34's tragedy. With the support of NASA Headquarters, KSC took firm control of all spacecraft activities at the launch center.

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