Today marks a grim anniversary for NASA. It is the 50th anniversary of the first major, deadly disaster of the space program, the Apollo 1 fire. On January 27, 1967, a fire erupted inside the Apollo command module during a preflight rehearsal test. The fire killed all three astronauts inside, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom.

The Apollo program was the program that put man on the moon. The Apollo 1 mission was going to be the first of several manned flights. The crew often complained that the spacecraft was not ready for a launch. On January 27th, the crew spent the afternoon inside the capsule, problem-solving and going over a checklist of items of things to fix and check. The crew noticed a foul odor coming from the oxygen tank. Soon after, the spacecraft’s interior became filled with smoke and engulfed in flames. Heat caused the air pressure inside the craft to rise, making it impossible to open the hatch from the inside. After about 30 seconds, the spacecraft ruptured. The crew died of asphyxiation.

A series of critical mistakes contributed to the fire. There was an abundance of flammable materials inside the spacecraft. The air inside the spacecraft was also filled with pure oxygen as opposed to a mix of oxygen and nitrogen, like the earth’s atmosphere. Pure oxygen made the spacecraft extremely flammable. Some believe that the political pressure to get to the moon at the height of the space race may have led to NASA overlooking some of the safety concerns.

Today, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will unveil a new Apollo 1 tribute in its visitor complex at the Apollo/Saturn V Center.

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