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Plugs-out test[ edit ] Chaffee, White, Appolo project Grissom training in a simulator of their Command Module cabin, January 19, The launch simulation on January 27,on pad 34, was a "plugs-out" test to determine whether the spacecraft would operate nominally on simulated internal power while detached from all cables and umbilicals.
Passing this test was essential to making the February 21 launch date. The test was considered non-hazardous because neither the launch vehicle nor the spacecraft was loaded with fuel or cryogenicsand all pyrotechnic Appolo project explosive bolts were disabled.
Grissom immediately noticed a strange odor in the air circulating through his suit which he compared to "sour buttermilk", and the simulated countdown was held at 1: No cause of the odor could be found, and the countdown was resumed at 2: The accident investigation found this odor not to be related to the fire.
The hatch consisted of three parts: The boost hatch cover was partially, but not fully, latched in place because the flexible boost protective cover was slightly distorted by some cabling run under it to provide the simulated internal power.
The spacecraft's fuel cell reactants were not loaded for this test. After the hatches were sealed, the air in the cabin was replaced with pure oxygen at First mention of fire is heard at 1: Movement by the astronauts was detected by the spacecraft's inertial measurement unit and the astronaut's biomedical sensors, and also indicated by increases in oxygen spacesuit flow, and sounds from Grissom's stuck-open microphone.
There was no evidence to identify the movement, or whether it was related to the fire. The stuck microphone was part of a problem with the communications loop connecting the crew, the Operations and Checkout Buildingand the Complex 34 blockhouse control room.
The poor communications led Grissom to remark: All countdown functions up to the simulated internal power transfer had been successfully completed by 6: Nine seconds later at 6: This was immediately followed at 6: Open 'er up" "We've got a bad fire—Let's get out We're burning up", or "I'm reporting a bad fire This transmission, believed by some listeners to be Chaffee, lasted 5.
Flames and gases then rushed outside the Command Module through open access panels to two levels of the pad service structure. Intense heat, dense smoke, and ineffective gas masks designed for toxic fumes rather than heavy smoke hampered the ground crew's attempts to rescue the men.
There were fears the Command Module had exploded, or soon would, and that the fire might ignite the solid fuel rocket in the launch escape tower above the Command Module, which would have likely killed nearby ground personnel, and possibly have destroyed the pad.
The third phase began when most of the oxygen was consumed and was replaced with atmospheric air, essentially quenching the fire, but causing high concentrations of carbon monoxide and heavy smoke to fill the cabin, and large amounts of soot to be deposited on surfaces as they cooled.
Although the cabin lights remained lit, they were at first unable to find the astronauts through the dense smoke. As the smoke cleared, they found the bodies, but were not able to remove them.
The fire had partly melted Grissom's and White's nylon space suits and the hoses connecting them to the life support system.
Grissom had removed his restraints and was lying on the floor of the spacecraft. White's restraints were burned through, and he was found lying sideways just below the hatch. It was determined that he had tried to open the hatch per the emergency procedure, but was not able to do so against the internal pressure.
Chaffee was found strapped into his right-hand seat, as procedure called for him to maintain communication until White opened the hatch. Because of the large strands of melted nylon fusing the astronauts to the cabin interior, removing the bodies took nearly 90 minutes.
Slayton said of Grissom and White's bodies, "It is very difficult for me to determine the exact relationships of these two bodies. They were sort of jumbled together, and I couldn't really tell which head even belonged to which body at that point.
I guess the only thing that was real obvious is that both bodies were at the lower edge of the hatch. They were not in the seats. They were almost completely clear of the seat areas.
This modified NASA's existing accident procedures, based on military aircraft accident investigation, by giving the Deputy Administrator the option of performing independent investigations of major failures, beyond those for which the various Program Office officials were normally responsible.
It declared, "It is NASA policy to investigate and document the causes of all major mission failures which occur in the conduct of its space and aeronautical activities and to take appropriate corrective actions as a result of the findings and recommendations.
Webb asked President Lyndon B. Johnson to allow NASA to handle the investigation according to its established procedure, promising to be truthful in assessing blame, and to keep the appropriate leaders of Congress informed.
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