Space travel has always been something that was challenging, even under the best of circumstances. Its success essentially depends on having everything going exactly right, even down to the smallest detail. If anything goes wrong it has the potential to set off a chain reaction that can prove to be catastrophic. This is largely because space travel is still a very risky business, even in today's world. Imagine how it must have been back in 1967 when manned space flight was just starting to get underway. Unfortunately, tragedies can and do happen. This was the case with what was to have been the first manned lunar mission in the history of the United States. The mission, named by its crew, was called Apollo 1. These individuals were to herald in a new era when it came to space exploration and had cemented themselves in a position to make history. The first manned mission in NASA's space program was a daunting prospect, but the three individuals that made up the crew of the Apollo 1 space module seemed ready to face any challenges that might be ahead. Sadly, they made history for all the wrong reasons. Apollo 1 was supposed to launch on February 21, 1967. The entire launch was under a great deal of scrutiny because it was to be the first manned mission in the space program and it had garnered a great deal of attention from both political figures and members of the general public. It was something that was an almost constant presence in the media in the days leading up to its launch. While many people were excited about a manned space program there were many people that had serious doubts about the ability of the entire program to be successful as well as having concerns for its overall safety. Unfortunately, there were several problems that existed concerning the lunar modules and the early space program. There were a lot of things that were not really working the way that people want them to in order to feel completely comfortable but it was a process that had to be worked out by focusing on one thing at a time in order to progress and get ready to launch. On January 27, 1967 the crew was to take part in a launch test in order to simulate everything leading up to the launch, right up to the point of liftoff. The primary crew were pilot Roger Chaffee, senior pilot Edward White, II and commander Gus Grissom. They had no idea what they were about to face as they approached the launch chest. Obviously, most people would reasonably expect that the greatest danger would come during the actual mission. Unfortunately, this particular crew never made it to see the launch date. While they were going through the motions for the launch test on January 20, 1967 a massive cabin fire broke out inside the lunar module. All three men were trapped inside and they were essentially unable to get out of the module in time. As a result, all three individuals were killed in this violent fire that consumed the entire cabin of the space module in a very rapid fashion. The fire not only moved very quickly but also burned extremely hot. Essentially, the crew members never had a chance. In the aftermath of this tragedy both NASA and the United States Congress started their own individual investigations and formed investigation teams. The express purpose of these teams was to look into every aspect of how and why the accident occurred and then create a comprehensive report in order to allow the information to be disseminated so that changes could be made to future lunar modules. This created some problems because while NASA had its own investigative team it was unable to find much of the information that Congress found on its own. Part of that information involved the builder of the lunar space module, which was North American Aviation. This was a company that had been trusted when it came to building military aircraft but building a lunar space module was an entirely different assignment altogether. The report from Congress essentially stated that there were a lot of problems with the way the company built the lunar space module and that these problems may have contributed to problems associated with it as well as the crew’s inability to escape. The problems started for NASA when this information was revealed during a joint conference between the two entities and the information was revealed to NASA leaders by Congress. The leaders in NASA had absolutely no idea that any of this information even existed and it left the agency looking like they were quite unaware of what was being built and tested within their own agency. As a result, there were no flights of lunar space modules whatsoever for the next 20 months while NASA essentially went back to the drawing board in an attempt to figure out what had happened. Unfortunately, no definitive cause for the explosion and subsequent fire were ever determine with any level of certainty. However, NASA did eventually find that there were a number of design problems that contributed to the deaths of the crew because even if those design problems were not directly responsible for the fire, they contributed a great deal to the crew’s inability to successfully deal with the situation and escape safely. Today, Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, where the launch test was conducted, still stands in much the same fashion as it was the day this tragedy occurred. It has essentially become a shrine to the crew members who were killed that day and it is still a popular attraction where people come to pay homage to these individuals as well as the bravery that they demonstrated. After 20 months of investigation an Apollo 1 mission was indeed flown successfully. It was manned by the backup crew that had worked closely with the primary crew that was killed just 20 months earlier. Furthermore, the success of the crew that eventually flew the mission, as well as many subsequent flights, were made safer by the things that were learned as a result of the Apollo 1 tragedy.


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