Disaster, Recovery, Triumph


In a barren, disused area of Cape Canaveral stands a gaunt, concrete-and-steel hulk which once formed the launch platform of Pad 34. Four decades ago, it served as the starting point for the first Apollo mission, an 11-day trek into low-Earth orbit to demonstrate the capabilities of the spacecraft that would one day deliver men to the Moon. Today, overgrown with bushes, weeds and a few wild pepper trees, it slowly decays in the salty air. A faded ‘Abandon in Place’ sign adorns one of its legs. Near its base are a pair of plaques, memorialising a far darker and more tragic event. The first reads simply: ‘Launch Complex 34 Friday 27 January 1967 1831 Hours’ and dedicates itself to the first three Apollo astronauts, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. The second pays tribute to their ‘ultimate sacrifice’ that January evening, long ago. Nearby are three granite benches, one in honour of each man.

Every year, without fail, their families are invited by NASA to visit the spot and reflect upon the disaster which befell them that Friday. It is a time of year which has become synonymous with tragedy in America’s space programme; the losses of Challenger and Columbia having occurred within the very same week in 1986 and 2003. Indeed, 27 January 1967 marked a line in the sand, as the seeming good fortune and achievement of Project Gemini gave way to the stark and brutal realisation that reaching the Moon before the end of the decade was by no means assured and, technically and literally, our closest celestial neighbour remained a long way off. It would be a bad year for both the United States and the Soviet Union and by its close no fewer than six spacefarers would be dead: three killed in Apollo 1, a cosmonaut during his return to Earth and two astronauts in aircraft and car accidents.

Gene Cernan, for whom 1966 ended brightly with assignment to the Apollo 2 backup crew, recounted that 1967 was such a rotten year that his wife, Barbara, did not even feel able to write her usual Christmas letters to friends. It should have been quite different. NASA’s plans called for as many as three Apollo missions, the first (led by Grissom) employing a spacecraft design known as ‘Block 1’, capable only of

reaching Earth orbit. The others, commanded, respectively, by Jim McDivitt and Frank Borman, would utilise a more advanced Block 2 type, which possessed the navigational, rendezvous and docking equipment needed for lunar expeditions. “There were hundreds of differences between the two,” wrote Deke Slayton, “the major one being that Block 1 vehicles didn’t have the docking tunnel that would allow you to dock with a lunar module.’’

Each mission, though, would find common ground in that it would evaluate what Grissom had already described as a machine infinitely more complex than Mercury or Gemini; a machine which came in two parts. The ‘command module’, firstly, was a conical structure, 3.2 m high and 3.9 m across its ablative base, and would provide its three-man crews with 5.95 m3 of living and work space whilst aloft. Brimming with reaction controls, parachutes, propellant and water tanks, cabling, instrumen­tation and controls, it would truly live up to its name as the command centre for future voyages to the Moon. Both it and the second section, the ‘service module’, were built by North American Aviation of Downey, California – today part of Boeing – and the latter consisted of an unpressurised cylinder, 7.5 m long and 3.9 wide, housing propellant tanks, fuel cells, four ‘quads’ of manoeuvring thrusters, an S-band communications antenna, oxygen and water stores and the giant Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine. The latter, some 3.8 m long and fed by a propellant mixture of hydrazine and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine with an oxidiser of nitrogen tetroxide, would provide the impulse for inserting Apollo into and removing it from lunar orbit. It was a critical component without a backup and this demanded that its design be as simple as possible: its propellants, pushed into the combustion chamber by helium, were ‘hypergolic’, meaning that they would burn on contact, with no need for fuel pumps or an ignition system. The propellants would flow so long as the valves were held open and the valves were designed to be extremely reliable. The command and service modules would remain connected throughout a mission, with the latter jettisoned just minutes before re-entry.

Evaluating this machine for the first time was Grissom’s responsibility. He and his crew were tasked with an ‘open-ended’ mission, lasting anywhere from six orbits to 14 days. In his book on lost and forgotten Apollo missions, spaceflight historian Dave Shayler wrote that it was certainly the crew’s desire to fly for as long as practical – to extract as much valuable engineering data from the spacecraft as they could – but admitted that the Block 1 vehicle was almost certainly incapable of supporting operations for longer than 14 days. It will never be known what duration Apollo 1 might have achieved, but it seems doubtful that it could have seriously threatened the 14-day record established by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell a year earlier. Indeed, in the weeks before 27 January, Gus Grissom joked darkly that as long as the crew returned from orbit alive, he would consider the mission a success. His fatalistic outlook and lack of confidence in Block 1 was shared by many of his fellows within the astronaut corps.

Their launch, according to Flight Director Chris Kraft at the Apollo News Media Symposium, held in mid-December 1966, was targeted for late February or early March of the following year. As the event drew nearer, this date was refined. By the end of January, it was set for 21 February. Internally, the mission was known as


‘Apollo-Saturn 204’ (AS-204) and Grissom, White and Chaffee would have become the first humans to ride Wernher von Braun’s mighty Saturn IB booster, a two-stage behemoth which, in just 11 minutes and 30 seconds, would have injected their 20,400 kg spacecraft into an orbit of 136 x 210 km. (The ‘204’ indicated that the launch vehicle was the fourth production unit of the Saturn 1B type. Despite this nomenclature, the crew had successfully pushed to rename their flight ‘Apollo 1’.)

Grissom and his backup, Wally Schirra, light-heartedly dubbed the Saturn 1B ‘‘a big maumoo’’. Its first stage, known as ‘S-IB’, was 25.5 m tall and 6.6 m wide and would have boosted Apollo 1 to an altitude of 68 km under the combined thrust of its eight H-1 engines. Next, the ‘S-IVB’ second stage, fitted with a single J-2 engine, would have completed the climb into orbit. The latter, built by the Douglas Aircraft Company, would also form the third stage of the Moon-bound Saturn V booster. Minutes after achieving Earth orbit, Ed White, the senior pilot of Apollo 1, would have unstrapped and headed into the command module’s lower equipment bay to begin setting up cameras and scientific hardware. Two and a half hours into the flight, he and pilot Roger Chaffee would have returned to their seats as Grissom separated Apollo 1 from the S-IVB.

Under Grissom’s control, the spacecraft would have maintained tight formation with the spent stage as White and Chaffee employed a battery of cameras to record the venting of its residual liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants. Much of this work would be crucial for subsequent, Moon-bound missions, which would involve a third Apollo component, the lunar module, housed inside the upper part of the S – IVB and extracted by the command and service module shortly after launch. No rendezvous manoeuvre with the stage was planned on Apollo 1, however, but several tests of the SPS engine were timetabled. In total, it would have been fired on eight occasions: three times by Grissom and White and twice by Chaffee, with the astronaut responsible for ‘flying’ each burn stationed in the commander’s seat. The other crew members would respectively fulfil ‘navigation’ and ‘engineering’ roles. The first pair of SPS firings would have occurred during Apollo 1’s second day in orbit, with the remainder being executed at roughly 50-hour intervals throughout the rest of the mission.

Additionally, the crew was assigned one of the largest complements of scientific, photographic and medical experiments ever carried into orbit. During their long flight, they would have operated instruments to monitor aerosol concentrations in the command module’s cabin, carried out synoptic terrain photography of diverse targets ranging from the coast of Africa to the Mississippi River Mouth and Oyster Bay in Jamaica to the South China Sea and observed a range of meteorological and marine phenomena, from cloud eddies to dust storms and smog-laden cities to ocean currents. Other photographic tasks and medical investigations – an in-flight exerciser, a photocardiogram to monitor heart function and an otolith ‘helmet’ to track the effects of weightlessness on the balance mechanism of the inner ear – would have filled much of their time. Moreover, they would have been required to evaluate every aspect of Apollo itself, from the performance of its rudimentary ‘toilet’ to its general habitability.

Had their mission gone ahead and run to its maximum length, the three men would have returned to Earth on 7 March, separating from their service module a few minutes before plunging, base-first, into the upper fringes of the atmosphere. The command module would then have borne the brunt of re-entry heating and finally, beneath a canopy of three red-and-white parachutes, would have splashed into the Pacific some 330 hours after launch. Assuming nothing untoward happened, the flight of Apollo 1 would clear the way for the first mission of the Block 2 spacecraft and, eventually, for a lunar landing, possibly as soon as late 1968.

Thanks to Wally Schirra, there would only be one manned Block 1 flight. Originally, NASA wanted to virtually duplicate Grissom’s mission with Apollo 2, featuring Schirra and rookie astronauts Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham. However, the man who had commanded the world’s first space rendezvous in December 1965 wanted nothing to do with it. “I argued it made no sense to do a repeat performance,” he wrote, “and I succeeded in getting the mission scrubbed.’’ (In fact, Walt Cunningham, in a 1999 oral history for NASA, speculated that Deke Slayton himself hoped to command Apollo 2, but was overruled. Slayton made no reference to this in his autobiography.) Regardless of Schirra’s involvement, the hands of fate had already turned on Apollo 2 by October 1966, when the propellant tanks inside one of the service modules exploded during a ground test. Although it had not been assigned to Apollo 2, it made sense to keep downstream flights on schedule, replace it with Schirra’s service module and cancel the ‘repeat performance’. Whether he liked it or not, Schirra was told on 15 November that Apollo 2 was no more.

In winning his battle to get rid of the second Block 1 mission, Schirra had shot himself in the foot because he, Eisele and Cunningham were reassigned in early December as Grissom’s new backup team. Schirra was reluctant to accept the change – he wanted a mission of his own that would provide a challenge and certainly did not want to serve on another backup crew – but Slayton and Grissom eventually talked him around. (He would complain to Tom Stafford, however, that Slayton had ‘‘screwed him’’.) Meanwhile, astronauts Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott and Rusty Schweickart, who had served as Apollo 1’s backups since March 1966, would now become the prime crew of a ‘new’ Apollo 2, which would test the Grumman-built lunar module in Earth orbit on a mission involving two Saturn 1Bs. McDivitt, to be fair, had been working on the lunar module for more than a year and Scott had rendezvous experience, so it made sense to assign them, rather than Schirra’s team, to this mission. Next up would be Frank Borman, Mike Collins and Bill Anders on Apollo 3, tasked with the first manned flight of the Saturn V to a high Earth orbit, reaching an record-breaking apogee of 6,400 km. Had the 27 January tragedy not occurred, these missions might have followed Apollo 1 in the summer and autumn of 1967, setting the stage for a lunar landing the year after.

Schirra’s wish to cancel the second Block 1 flight was not just based on a whimsical reluctance to fly what he perceived to be a pointless mission. It also had much to do with his lack of confidence in the Block 1 design, which many astronauts considered sloppy and unsafe. ‘‘The craft was like an old friend,’’ Time magazine told its readers on 3 February 1967. It was nothing of the sort. Since his assignment

The Apollo 1 command and service module during testing, with the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine and thruster quads clearly visible. Apollo 1 would have been the first and only flight of the ‘Block 1’ design – a design disliked and distrusted by both Gus Grissom and Wally Schirra.

to Apollo 1, Gus Grissom had spent months overseeing poor performance and low standards on the part of North American in their efforts to get the Block 1 hardware ready for space. Unlike Gemini, where they could approach James McDonnell himself if issues arose, the North American set-up was far larger, more impersonal and little heed was paid to the astronauts’ concerns. It “was a slick, big-time bunch of Washington operators,’’ wrote Tom Stafford, “compared to the mom-and-pop operation at McDonnell.’’ Some astronauts felt the technicians were more worried about their free time than with building a Moonship. Even NASA’s Apollo manager Joe Shea remarked that, after receiving the two-billion-dollar contract, North American had thrown a party and made hats with ‘NASA’ printed on them, albeit with the ‘S’ replaced by a dollar sign…

In fact, as 1966 wore on, the number of problems with ‘Spacecraft 012’ – the command and service module assigned to Grissom’s mission – was so high that technicians were having trouble tending to them all. Riley McCafferty, responsible for updating the simulators, noted that at one point more than a hundred modifications awaited implementation. Plans to ship Spacecraft 012 to Cape Kennedy in August 1966 were postponed by three weeks when problems arose with a water glycol pump in the command module’s environmental control system. Upon arrival in Florida, more than half of the engineering work assigned to North American remained incomplete, together with other serious deficiencies: a leaking SPS engine, coolant problems, computer software that ‘‘never quite worked right’’ and faulty wiring.

It did not inspire confidence in Grissom’s crew, who presented Shea with a half – joking photograph of themselves bowed in prayer over their spacecraft. ‘‘It’s not that we don’t trust you,’’ they told him, ‘‘but this time we’ve decided to go over your head!’’ Repairs and rework eliminated any hope of launching Apollo 1 before the end of the year and a February 1967 target became unavoidable. On 22 January, just before leaving his Houston home for the last time, Grissom was so angry with the problems that he plucked a grapefruit-sized lemon from a tree in his backyard, flew it to the Cape in his baggage and hung it over the hatch of the Apollo simulator.

Things had seemed quite different the previous March, when Grissom, White and Chaffee, ‘‘the coolest heads in the business,’’ according to Bob Gilruth, had been named as the first Apollo crew. Together with their backups, McDivitt, Scott and Schweickart, they had closely monitored the spacecraft’s progress throughout 1966, spending virtually every waking hour in Downey, renting rooms in a nearby motel and even sleeping in bunks near the production line from time to time. ‘‘Gus and Jim were the first two guys available to move from Gemini to Apollo,’’ wrote Deke Slayton, ‘‘which is why I assigned them. Gus would keep an eye on the command and service module, while Jim would start following development of the lunar module.’’

To be fair, North American had faced immense technical challenges of its own. One of these was NASA’s mandate that the command module should operate a pure oxygen atmosphere – a dangerous fire hazard, admittedly, but infinitely less complex than trying to implement an oxygen-nitrogen mixture which, if misjudged, could suffocate the crew before they even knew about it. In space, the cabin’s atmosphere would be kept at a pressure of about a fifth of an atmosphere, but for ground tests would be pressurised to slightly above one atmosphere. This would eliminate the risk of the spacecraft imploding, but at such high pressures there remained the danger that anything which caught fire would burn almost explosively. At an early stage, North American had objected to the use of pure oxygen aboard Apollo, but NASA, which had employed it without incident on Mercury and Gemini, overruled them.

The selection of pure oxygen was not made lightly. NASA engineers had long been aware that a two-gas system, providing an approximately Earth-like atmosphere of some 20 per cent oxygen and 80 per cent nitrogen, pressurised to one bar, would reduce the risk of fires. Further, having a gaseous mixture of this type would avoid many of the physiological effects of pure oxygen, such as eye irritation, hearing loss and a clogging of the chest. However, at the time, the complexities of building a system which could mix and monitor these gases would have added to the spacecraft’s weight, making it intolerably heavy. Other complications included the astronauts’ space suits, which were pressurised to 0.31 bars. “To walk on the Moon,’’ wrote Deke Slayton, “you needed to get out of the spacecraft… and with a mixed-gas system you’d have to pre-breathe for hours, lowering the pressure and getting the nitrogen out of your system so you didn’t get the bends. Of course, if there was a real emergency and you had to use the suit, you’d really have been in trouble.’’

Other worries surrounded the craft’s hatch, a complex affair which actually came in two cumbersome segments: an inner piece which opened into the command module’s cabin, overlaid by an outer piece. North American had proposed a single­piece hatch, fitted with explosive bolts, which could be swung open easily in an emergency; NASA, however, argued that this might increase the risk of it misfiring on the way to the Moon. By adopting an inward-opening hatch, cabin pressure would keep it tightly sealed in flight. . . but notoriously tough to open on the ground. These two factors – a pure oxygen atmosphere and an immovable hatch – coupled with a mysterious ignition source would spell death for the Apollo 1 crew.

That Grissom was beginning to feel a strong sense of foreboding about the mission is reflected in his propitious comments in the weeks preceding the 27 January test – most famously, his declaration that “if we die, we want people to accept it… this is a risky business’’. He had already told colleagues that, if an accident did occur in the programme, it would probably involve him. Also, for the first time, he began to take the frustrations of work home with him. “When he was home,’’ recalled his wife, Betty, “he normally did not want to be with the space programme. He would rather be just messing around with the kids, but he was uptight about it.’’ Others, including Walt Cunningham, added that Spacecraft 012 “just wasn’t as good as it should have been for the job of flying the first manned Apollo mission’’.

It was with an air, perhaps, of scepticism and contempt that Grissom, White and Chaffee, clad in their white space suits, crossed the gantry at Pad 34 and eased themselves into their seats early on the fateful afternoon of 27 January. All three were described by NASA secretary Lola Morrow – who had herself nicknamed Apollo as ‘Project Appalling’ – as unusually subdued and in no mood for the so – called ‘plugs-out’ test. By this point, the backup crew had changed to Wally Schirra,

Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham, who had themselves spent the previous night aboard the spacecraft for a ‘plugs-in’ test, with the vehicle still entirely dependent upon electrical power from the ground and the hatch open. Schirra liked Spacecraft 012 no more than did Grissom. After emerging from his own test, he took his friend to one side and told him to ‘‘get outta there’’ if he sensed even the slightest glitch. ‘‘I didn’t like it.’’

Communications between the spacecraft and the nearby blockhouse, manned by rookie astronaut Stu Roosa, caused problems almost from the outset. Grissom was so frustrated that he had even asked Joe Shea, at breakfast that morning, to climb into the cabin with them and witness, first-hand, from a manager’s perspective, how bad the problems were. Shea weighed up the pros and cons of rigging up a headset and somehow squeezing himself in shirtsleeves into Apollo 1’s lower equipment bay, beneath the astronauts’ footrests, but ultimately decided against it. Even Deke Slayton, who was based in the blockhouse that day, considered sitting in with them, but decided to remain where he was and help monitor the test.

Grissom was first aboard, taking the commander’s seat on the left side of the cabin, and almost as soon as he had hooked his life-support umbilicals into the oxygen supply, he noticed a peculiar odour. It smelled, he said, like sour buttermilk, and technicians were promptly scrambled to the spacecraft to take air samples. Nothing untoward was found and Roger Chaffee entered next, taking his place with the communications controls on the right-hand side. Finally, Ed White slid into the centre couch. With all three men aboard, the command module’s inner and outer hatches were closed and sealed and finally the boost cover to protect it from the exhaust of the Saturn 1B’s escape tower was secured. Next, pure oxygen was steadily pumped into the cabin.

Throughout the afternoon, a multitude of niggling problems disrupted and delayed things. A high oxygen flow indicator periodically triggered the master alarm and spotty communications between Apollo 1 and Roosa grew so bad that Grissom barked in exasperation: ‘‘How are we gonna get to the Moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?’’ One such problem, which arose at 4:25 pm, turned out to be caused by a live microphone that could not be turned off. The NASA test conductor, Clarence Chauvin, recalled that communications were so poor that his team could barely hear the astronauts’ voices. Eventually, the simulated countdown was put on hold at 5:40 pm. Forty minutes later, after more communications headaches, controllers prepared to transfer the spacecraft to internal fuel cell power. . . and the countdown was held again.

Suddenly, with no warning, controllers noticed the crew’s biomedical readings jump, indicating increased oxygen flow in their space suits. At the same time, around 6:30:54 pm, other sensors recorded a brief power surge aboard Apollo 1. Ten seconds later came the first cry from the spacecraft. It was Roger Chaffee’s voice: ‘‘Fire!’’

Seated in the blockhouse, Deke Slayton glanced over at a monitor which showed Apollo 1’s hatch window, normally a dark circle, but now lit up, almost white. In quick succession came more urgent calls from the spacecraft. ‘‘We’ve got a fire in the cockpit!’’ yelled Chaffee, adding ‘‘let’s get out… we’re burning up’’ and finally uttering a brief scream. His words described the desperate bid by the astronauts to save themselves. Downstairs, on the first floor of Pad 34, technician Gary Propst, watching a monitor in the first seconds after the call, could clearly see Ed White, his arms raised above his head, fiddling with the hatch. Propst could not understand why the men did not simply blow the hatch, little realising that there was no way for them to do this.

Instead, White had to laboriously use a ratchet to release each of the six bolts spanning the circumference of the inner hatch. Years later, Dave Scott recalled that, during training, he and White had weightlifted the hatch over their heads whilst lying supine in their couches. Now, in the few seconds he had available before being overcome, White barely had chance to even begin loosening the first bolt. ft would have made little difference. As fire gorged its way through Apollo 1, the build-up of hot gases sealed the hatch shut with enormous force. No man on Earth could have opened the hatch under such circumstances. fn fact, even under the best conditions in the simulator, the inner hatch alone took 90 seconds to remove and none of the crew – even the super-fit White – had ever done it inside two minutes during training.

Subsequent investigations would determine that the fire had started somewhere beneath Grissom’s seat, perhaps in the vicinity of some unprotected and chafed wires and, once sparked in the pure oxygen atmosphere, fed itself hungrily and soon exploded into a raging inferno. Other readily-combustible products – Velcro pads, nylon netting, polyurethane padding and paperwork – added fuel to the flames. The astronauts themselves had even taken a block of styrofoam into the spacecraft to relieve the pressure on their backs throughout the test; it had exploded like a bomb in the pure-oxygen environment. “At such pressure, and bathed by pure oxygen,’’ wrote Grissom’s biographer Ray Boomhower, “a cigarette could be reduced to ashes in seconds and even metal could burn.’’

At length, pressures inside the cabin exceeded Apollo 1’s design limit and the spacecraft ruptured at 6:31:19 pm, filling Pad 34’s white room with thick black smoke and flames. By now, the pure oxygen had been guzzled by the fire and poisonous fumes had long since asphyxiated the three men. Outside, just a couple of metres away, North American’s pad leader Don Babbitt sprang from his desk and barked orders to lead technician Jim Greaves to get them out of the command module. ft was hopeless. The waves of heat and pressure were too intense and repeatedly drove the men back. “The smoke was extremely heavy,’’ Babbitt recalled. “ft appeared to me to be a heavy thick grey smoke, very billowing, but very thick.’’ fn fact, none of the pad staff could see far beyond their noses and had to physically run their hands over the outside of the boost cover to find holes into which they could insert tools to open the hatch.

The effects of the smoke were so bad that no fewer than 27 technicians were treated that night by Cape Kennedy’s dispensary for inhalation and Babbitt had to order Greaves out of the white room at one stage, lest he pass out. Eventually, with the assistance of more technicians and the arrival of firefighters, the hatch was opened and the would-be rescuers gazed at a hellish scene of devastation within. By the flickering glow of a flashlight, they could see nothing but burnt wiring, firefighter Jim Burch recounted, and it took a few seconds before they finally realised that the

The burnt-out remains of Apollo 1.

unreal calmness meant only one thing: Grissom, White and Chaffee were dead. It was 6:37 pm, five and a half minutes after the first report of fire. Choking over the phone to Slayton, Babbitt could not find words to describe what he saw.

Flight surgeon Fred Kelly, who arrived on the scene with Slayton shortly thereafter, was equally shocked. He observed that it would probably take hours to remove the three men from the spacecraft, because the intense heat had caused everything to melt and fuse together. Moreover, there remained the risk that the heat could accidentally set off the Saturn IB’s escape tower and the pad was cleared of all personnel. Not until the small hours of the following morning, 28 January, were the bodies removed. Grissom had detached his oxygen hose, probably in an effort to help White with the hatch, while Chaffee, in charge of communications, remained securely strapped into his seat. The autopsy team set to work immediately and found that none of the astronauts had suffered life-threatening burns; all had died from asphyxia when their oxygen hoses burned through and their space suits filled with poisonous carbon monoxide.

It was a devastating blow to the astronaut corps and to NASA as a whole. Deke Slayton described it as his “worst day’’ and Frank Borman, whom the agency appointed as its astronaut representative on the internal review board, admitted that he, Max Faget and Slayton “went out and got bombed’’ in the hours after the accident. “I’m not proud to say it,’’ continued the normally-teetotal Borman, “but… we ended up throwing glasses, like a scene out of an old World War One movie.’’ The wives of the three dead men – Betty Grissom, Pat White and Martha Chaffee – were also angry and would sue North American for its shoddy spacecraft. Each was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation in 1972.

Three days after the accident, in flag-draped coffins, the bodies of the astronauts were met at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC, by an honour guard and by representatives of NASA and President Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Grissom and Chaffee were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, whilst White’s family insisted on his interment at the Military Academy at West Point.

The one saving grace of the tragedy was that it happened when it did, that it stopped NASA’s incessant ‘go’ fever in its tracks at a point from which there might be some recourse. If Grissom, White and Chaffee had been on their way to the Moon when such a fire erupted, it could conceivably have spelled the end of Apollo. Moreover, astronauts Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan, who were in Downey on the night of the disaster, preparing to back up Jim McDivitt’s Apollo 2 mission, felt the deaths of three men on the ground had probably saved six or more lives later on. By extension, the fact that investigators had the burnt-out spacecraft to examine meant that the cause could be pinpointed and rectified. A fire on the way to the Moon would have eliminated any chance of finding out what had happened.