The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.|
Part 1 (F)
Preparation for Flight, the Accident, and Investigation
February 1MSC management directed contractors and other government agencies to stop all MSC-related manned testing in environments with high oxygen content. The message dispatched stated: "Until further notice, each addressee and his subcontractors is directed to cease all MSC related manned testing in an environment containing high oxygen concentrations. This restriction applies to all tests in chambers, enclosures, spacecraft, space suits, and includes any other procedure which may require any human activity within a concentrated oxygen environment. Unmanned qualification and development tests may continue in accordance with established plans as long as the contractor can assure that human safety is not jeopardized.
"Waivers for test continuation due to urgent programmatic schedules and commitments will be granted only by the Director of MSC. Each addressee should review all test procedures and use of equipment for unmanned testing using concentrated oxygen under pressure to assure that the tests are necessary and will be conducted safely.
"This message is precautionary in nature. It should not be construed to imply that any preliminary conclusions have been reached in the investigation of the recent Apollo accident.
"Unmanned buildup and preparations should proceed as planned, so that testing can be resumed when this restriction is lifted. . . ."
TWX, George M. Low, MSC, to addressees, Feb. 1, 1967.
February 1The task of removing the launch escape system from AS-204 was delayed until retrorockets and other ordnance devices could be removed from the launch vehicle and spacecraft.
Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman Floyd L. Thompson appointed a committee of two Board members and three consultants to coordinate panel activities and to bring to the attention of the Board the actions requiring specific approval. This Panel Coordinating Committee was required to present daily activity reports to the Board. Thompson announced that an executive session (Board members) would be held at 4 p.m. daily.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-15.
February 2Command module 014 arrived from the North American Aviation plant in Downey, Calif., and was placed in the Pyrotechnic Installation Building at KSC. The module was to be used for training the technicians who would disassemble command module 012, the module in which the AS-204 fire had ignited. Before removal of any component from 012, the technicians were to perform similar tasks on 014, to become familiar with all actions required to remove any single component and minimize damage during removal. As a component was removed it was transported from the launch complex to the Pyrotechnic Installation Building. All equipment associated with the accident would also be placed in the PIB, including command module hardware and support equipment.
The Apollo 204 Review Board was informed that the most significant event in the investigation to date was the removal of the launch escape system from the command module, eliminating the greatest potential hazard to disassembly operations. With this task finished, members of the Fire Propagation Panel were expected to enter the command module the following day. Removal of the launch escape system also permitted extensive photographic coverage of the interior of the 012 command module.
Col. Charles F. Strang distributed copies of a status report of the January 31 accident at Brooks AFB, Tex., for the Board's information. NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans attended the session.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-15, 3-16, 3-47.
February 2MSC issued instructions to contractors and employees regarding release of information on any aspect of the AS-204 accident or investigation. The message said: "In accordance with the Apollo Failure Contingency Plan . . . and so this work may proceed rapidly and with complete integrity, all NASA and contractor employees are directed to refrain from discussing technical aspects of the accident outside of assigned working situations. This is meant to rule out accident discussion with other employees, family friends, neighbors and the like. All press information will be channeled through the Public Affairs Office.
TWX, MSC to distr., "MSC Posture on Apollo 204 Investigation," Feb. 2, 1967.
February 3NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., reported to Administrator James E. Webb on progress of the Apollo 204 Review Board investigation of the January 27 spacecraft fire. Specific cause of the fire had not been determined from the preliminary review. Official death certificates for the three crew members listed cause of death as "asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation due to the fire." Webb released the report to Congress and the press.
Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller announced that the unmanned flights AS-206 (on uprated Saturn I) an AS-501 and AS-502 (first and second Saturn V launches) would proceed as scheduled in 1967. Manned flights were postponed indefinitely.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-47; NASA News Releases 67-21 and 67-22, Feb. 3, 1967.
February 3In memoranda for the Apollo 204 Review Board, NASA Deputy Administrator Seamans noted changes in the Board:
February 3The Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman requested that a document be written to establish procedures for entry into CM 012. Coordination of requirements and priorities would be controlled by the Panel Coordinating Committee, and entry into the CM by Frank Borman, MSC, or his delegated representative.
A display showing the sequence of events immediately preceding and following the accident was prepared from telemetry data and placed in the Mission Briefing Room. Time span of the display was from 6:30 p.m. to 6:33 p.m., January 27. Significant information was included on communications, instrumentation, electrical power, environmental control, guidance and navigation, and stabilization and control.
Borman reported that the debris removal plan approved by the Board was progressing satisfactorily and that the next phase would use protective plywood covers for the couches to permit detailed examination of the command module interior.
Homer Carhart, Chief of Fuels Research, Chemistry Division, Naval Research Laboratory, was assigned to the Fire Propagation Panel. Board Chairman Floyd Thompson made the following appointments as Representatives of the Board: C. H. Bolender and Charles W. Mathews, both of NASA Hq.; Joseph F. Shea and G. Fred Kelly, MSC; Rocco Petrone, KSC; and William D. Baxter, Air Force Eastern Test Range.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-16, 3-17.
February 4Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman Floyd L. Thompson established an Advisory Group to support the Board in its investigation. The group consisted of representatives, consultants, liaison officers, observers, and secretariat and would report to the Board Chairman.
Duties were defined as follows:
February 4Maxime Faget, MSC, distributed a draft report on the use of internal and external power on the command module for the information of the Apollo 204 Review Board.
Scott Simpkinson, MSC, Chairman of the Disassembly Activities Panel, presented the disassembly schedule. He expected removal of the couches from command module 012 by 5 a.m., followed by installation of the false floor by 12 noon on February 5. The false floor had previously been installed in command module 014 as a training exercise.
Frank Borman, MSC, was granted release of the impounded flight suits of the backup crew, for egress testing. The Board was to observe the test February 5. "Board Proceedings," p. 3-17.
Lt. Col. William D. Baxter, Air Force Eastern Test Range, reported to the Apollo 204 Review Board that copies of statements by 90 witnesses of the January 27 fire had been transcribed. George Jeffs of North American Aviation announced that an NAA and AiResearch team had arrived to inspect the 012 command module and to propose further action on the environmental control unit and system.
Col. Charles F. Strang, USAF, said Board Chairman Floyd Thompson had asked that the "Life Sciences" portion of the final report include an analysis of the escape system, with redesign recommendations. The system fell within the purview of the Ground Emergency Procedures Review Panel, the In-Flight Fire Emergency Provisions Review Panel, the Design Review Panel, and the Medical Analysis Panel. G. Fred Kelly, MSC, was asked to coordinate findings.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-18.
February 7The Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences met in executive session to hear NASA testimony on the Apollo 204 fire. NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., said the cause of the accident had not yet been found. Corrective actions under study included choices of CM cabin and suit atmospheres, improved accessibility into and out of the CM cabin, and procedures to minimize the possibility of fires and to extinguish fires if they should occur.
Charges that the Apollo program was taking chances with lives in the effort to beat the U.S.S.R. to the moon were "completely unfounded; . . . before every one of our manned flights, as well as our ground test simulations, we have taken stock to be sure that there is nothing . . . undone or . . . done, that would in any way increase the risk to the astronauts." The astronauts had been party to decisions and part of the review process to make sure this was true. Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller emphasized that the Apollo program had been "paced at a deliberate pace"; it was the longest research and development program the U.S. had ever undertaken.
MSC Chief of Center Medical Programs Charles A. Berry testified that the cabin atmosphere used in the Apollo program - 100 percent oxygen at pressure of 3.5 newtons per square centimeter (5 pounds per square inch) - was based on extensive research over more than 10 years. The one-gas selection was based on tradeoffs among oxygen toxicity, hypoxia, spacecraft leakage, weight, and system reliability. And cabins had been purged with oxygen at some 10.3 newtons per square centimeter (15 pounds per square inch) during the prelaunch period for all manned launches since 1960 and all spacecraft vacuum chamber tests in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs - primarily to prevent astronauts from getting the bends.
Three previous fires had occurred in the pure oxygen environment, but these had been in simulators and caused by test equipment and procedures that would not be used in spacecraft.
The three-door hatch, requiring 90 seconds to open, was used for the first time on CM 012, which had an inner pressure hull and an outer shell to carry the structural loads of reentry into the atmosphere on a return from the moon. Danger of a fast-opening escape hatch's accidentally opening in space - as the Mercury program's Liberty Bell hatch had opened after splashdown in July 1961 - had to be considered. Research on cabin accessibility, ongoing before the 204 accident, was now intensified.
Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Apollo Accident: Hearing, 90th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 1, Feb. 7, 1967.
February 7Irving Pinkel, of Lewis Research Center and the Fire Propagation Panel, presented a preliminary report to the Apollo 204 Review Board. The report described the areas of the command module most damaged by the January 27 fire, the most probable fire paths, and the combustible materials in the CM. The oxygen in the CM would permit burning of only 5.4 to 6.8 kilograms of material. Solid combustibles in the CM included plastics in the nylon, polyurethane, and silicone rubber classes. The liquid-coolant ethylene glycol could also become a fuel if it escaped from the closed coolant system.
The technical team from AiResearch and North American Aviation (under NASA supervision) completed inspection of the CM 012 spacecraft environmental control unit, preparatory to removal.
Panel 21 was formed for service module disposition. It would plan and execute SM activities and obtain Board approval for demating the command and service modules.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-19.
February 7Floyd L. Thompson, Chairman of the Apollo 204 Review Board, formally established 21 task panels to support the investigation. He appointed a Board member as monitor for each panel.
Duties of the panels were to:
February 7MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth asked LaRC Director Floyd Thompson to conduct a study at Langley to familiarize flight crews with CM active docking and to explore problems in CM recontact with the LM and also LM withdrawal. MSC would provide astronaut and pilot-engineer support for the study. Apollo Block II missions called for CM active docking with the LM and withdrawal of the LM from the S-IVB stage, requiring development of optimum techniques and procedures to ensure crew safety and to minimize propellant utilization. LM withdrawal was a critical area because of clearances, marginal flight crew visibility, and mission constraints. Previous simulations at LaRC indicated the possibility of using the Rendezvous Docking Simulator.
Ltr., Gilruth to Thompson, Feb. 7, 1967.
February 8MSC ASPO Manager Joseph Shea reviewed with George Jeffs of North American Aviation a deficiency in the mission control programmer (MCP) in spacecraft 017. Certain diodes - intended to prevent propagation of a single-point failure into redundant circuitry - had been omitted from the flight unit. The diodes appeared on MCP schematics but had been omitted from the hardware because of problems in ground testing. A fix appeared mandatory before flight. The MCP unit in spacecraft 020 would be similarly modified before final integrated tests, to confirm that the design change had not introduced other problems.
Shea requested a full explanation from North American "as to how the schematics and/or drawings being used by the responsible design review engineers did not reflect the as built conditions." A report detailing the loopholes in North American procedures that permitted such a condition and the corrective actions taken to prevent such incidents in the future was requested no later than March 1.
Memo, Shea to distr., Feb. 8, 1967.
February 10William W. Petynia, MSC, was given ASPO responsibility for use of the spacecraft 012 service module in nonflight support of the Apollo program when the Apollo 204 Review Board released the SM from - further investigation. It was to be used in subsystem tests or tests of the complete module.
Memo, Petynia to Assistant Manager, ASPO, and Head, Apollo Support Office, "Disposition of the SC 012 Service Module," Feb. 10, 1967.
February 10NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., and members of his staff were briefed at KSC on aspects of the Apollo 204 investigation: final report, fire propagation, photographic control, data integration, and medical analysis. The group also visited the Pyrotechnic Installation Building and other areas under the control of the Apollo 204 Review Board.
Board Chairman Floyd Thompson announced that the panel reports would be signed by the panel chairmen only and that the Board monitors assigned to the panels would be responsible for ensuring that minority views be given proper consideration. In the event that serious differences were not resolved, they were to be included in the panel reports for the Board's consideration.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-20, 3-51 through 3-53.
February 10The Board of Inquiry into the January 20 S-IVB-503 explosion at the Douglas Sacramento Test Facility identified the probable cause as the failure of a pressure vessel made with titanium-alloy parent-metal fusion welded with commercially pure titanium. The combination, which was in violation of specifications, formed a titanium hydride intermetallic that induced embrittling in the weld nugget, thus significantly degrading the capabilities of a weldment to withstand sustained pressure loads. The Board recommended pressure limitations for titanium-alloy pressure vessels.
TWX, NASA Hq. to MSC, KSC, and Grumman, Feb. 8, 1967; TWX NASA Hq. to MSFC, MSC, KSC, "Pressure Limitation on Titanium Alloy Pressure Vessels," Feb. 10, 1967; ltr., William Teir, MSFC, to MSC, Attn: Joseph F. Shea, "Titanium Pressure Vessels," Feb. 10, 1967.
February 10Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman Floyd Thompson requested the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight, MSFC, KSC, and MSC to furnish a detailed description of their responsibilities, organizational relationships, and alignment in the Apollo program. Robert W. Van Dolah (Bureau of Mines), Chairman of the Origin and Propagation of Fire Panel, was asked to prepare a report on fire propagation by February 15 for submission to NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr.
Specially built tables had been placed in the Pyrotechnic Installation Building to display items from CM 012 for inspection without handling.
The Board also decided to ask that special studies of the spacesuits be made by the manufacturer and the MSC Crew Systems Division, to provide expert opinions on possible contributing factors to the fire and information for future spacesuit design.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-21.
February 14NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., gave Administrator James E. Webb a second interim report on the Apollo 204 Review Board investigation: "At this time there has been no determination as to the source of the ignition itself," but the fire apparently had varied considerably in intensity and direction and might have had more than one phase. All three crew spacesuits had been burned through, although extent of damage varied. Spacecraft disassembly was proceeding carefully, with detailed mapping and photography. Webb released the report to the press February 15.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-51 through 3-53; NASA News Release 67-28, Feb. 15, 1967.
February 14Selected Apollo 204 Review Board members and panel chairmen were instructed to prepare an interim report on actions to date. The Board was to review the report February 19 for a briefing of NASA Deputy Administrator Seamans on February 22. Robert W. Van Dolah presented a report on findings by the Origin and Propagation of Fire Panel, for submission to Seamans.
Command module 012 was scheduled for removal from its launch vehicle February 17 because of satisfactory progress in removing systems from it.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-21.
February 15The Apollo 204 Review Board received a detailed briefing on the anomalies recorded before and during the CM 012 fire. The following anomalies were transmitted by the command module telemetry system to several recording stations:
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-22.
February 16NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., informed Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller that, in view of the interim nature of schedule outlook for manned uprated Saturn I and Saturn V missions, he had decided to show these missions as "Under Study" in the Official NASA Flight Schedule for February 1967. As soon as firm approved dates for the missions were available the schedule would be updated. He said that all participants in the Apollo program should be advised that - except for unmanned missions 206, 501, and 502 - official agency schedule commitments had not been made and certainly could not be quoted until management assessments of the program had been completed and schedules approved by the Office of the Administrator.
Memo, Seamans to Mueller, "Official NASA Apollo Schedules for Manned Missions," Feb. 16, 1967.
February 17The Apollo 204 Review Board classified the materials in and around spacecraft 012 into three categories. Categories A and B were materials that had significant bearing on the results of the findings or were considered relevant to the investigation. Category C was essentially material not involved in the event, or only affected as a consequence of the event. Most of the Category C material would, at the time of its designation, be released to the program office for disposition and use within what might be termed normal program channels.
Memo, Joseph F. Shea, MSC, to distr., "Policy with respect to the use of material released from Apollo 204 Review Board jurisdiction," Feb. 16, 1967.
February 17Command module 012 was separated from the service module and moved to the Pyrotechnic Installation Building for further disassembly and investigation.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-22.
February 20The Apollo 204 Review Board approved a plan to remove the spacecraft 012 service module from the launch vehicle on February 21. The service module was to be taken to the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building at KSC for detailed examination and testing. Board Chairman Floyd Thompson directed that a plan be developed to release Launch Complex 34 from impoundage and to return it to KSC for normal use after the SM was removed. Preparations were being made to remove the aft heatshield from the command module to permit inspection of the CM floor from the lower side.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-23.
February 20Kenneth S. Kleinknecht was designated Chairman of the CSM Configuration Control Panel in the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, MSC. He would have authority to approve CSM changes within the limits outlined in the ASPO Configuration Management Plan.
Memo, Manager, ASPO, to distr., "CSM Configuration Control Panel Chairman," Feb. 20, 1967.
February 21Apollo program officials were briefed on significant information, tentative findings, and preliminary recommendations developed by the Apollo 204 Review Board. Those present included George E. Mueller, Samuel C. Phillips, C. H. Bolender, Frank A. Bogart, and Julian B. Bowman, all of NASA Hq.; Robert R. Gilruth, George M. Low, and Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., all of MSC; Kurt H. Debus, KSC; and Wernher von Braun, MSFC.
Ashmun Brown, Office of Chief Counsel, KSC, was assigned to assist the counsel to the Board.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-23, 3-24.
February 22A formal briefing on progress of the Apollo 204 Review Board was presented to NASA Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr., David Williamson of Seamans' staff, and Charles A. Berry, Joseph F. Shea, Donald K. Slayton, and Walter M. Schirra, Jr., all of MSC.
In a general session of the Board, Chairman Floyd Thompson stated that 1,500 persons were giving direct support to the accident investigation. This number, considered to be conservative, consisted of 600 persons from NASA, Air Force, Navy, Department of the Interior and other government agencies, and 900 from industry and universities.
"Board Proceedings," p. 3-24.
February 23Apollo Program officials, headed by NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight Mueller, briefed Deputy Administrator Seamans, Apollo 204 Review Board members, and those present at the February 22 briefing. The presentation included a status report on the Apollo program, on special tests being conducted and planned as a result of the January 27 fire, and on proposed actions on the tentative Review Board findings.
Board Chairman Floyd Thompson, LaRC; Robert Van Dolah, Bureau of Mines; and Frank Borman, MSC, accompanied Seamans to Washington the following day, to brief Administrator James E. Webb on the tentative findings and preliminary recommendations of the Board (see February 25).
The spacecraft-lunar module adapter (SLA) was removed from the launch vehicle and moved to the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building for examination.
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-24, 3-25, 3-55 through 3-59.
February 23William A. Lee was redesignated from Assistant Program Manager, Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, to Manager for the LM, ASPO, at MSC. Lee would be responsible for the management of the lunar module program, including MSC relations with Grumman and other supporting industrial concerns. Lee would report to ASPO Manager Joseph F. Shea and would assist him in the following areas:
February 25NASA Administrator James E. Webb released a statement and Deputy Administrator Robert C. Seamans' third interim report on the Apollo 204 Review Board investigation, including tentative findings and preliminary recommendations.
Webb said the risk of fire in the 012 command module had been greater than recognized when procedures were established for the January 27 manned test that had ended in a fatal flash fire. Successful Mercury and Gemini flight experience with pure oxygen atmospheres and the difficulty of keeping dropped items out of complex wiring and equipment had led to placing Velcro pads, covers over wire bundles, and nylon netting in the CM cabin. Although mostly of low combustion material, they were not arranged to provide barriers to the spread of fire. Soldered joints also had melted, and leaked oxygen and fluids had contributed to the fire. The capsule rupture caused flames to rush over and around astronaut couches to the break, preventing the crew from opening the hatch. And the environmental control unit would require careful examination and possible redesign.
Seamans reported an electrical malfunction was the most likely source of ignition of the fire, which apparently had three distinct phases. Principal preliminary recommendations of the Review Board were:
"Board Proceedings," pp. 3-55 through 3-59; NASA News Release 67-38, Feb. 25, 1967.
February 27NASA officials testified in an open hearing of the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences on the Apollo 204 fire. MSC Chief of Center Medical Programs Charles A. Berry reported that the cause of the three astronauts' deaths could be refined to asphyxiation from inhalation of carbon monoxide, bringing unconsciousness in seconds and death rapidly thereafter. The astronauts were believed to have become unconscious 18 to 20 seconds after the fire began.
Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller said NASA was introducing a three-pronged effort to prevent fire in the future: it would continue to minimize the possibility of ignition but would recognize the possibility would always exist, would seek to eliminate the chance of propagation if a fire began, and would seek to minimize consequences of a fire to the crew. Newly developed nonflammable materials would be used wherever possible and would be arranged to maintain fire breaks. Systems would be made more fire- and heat-resistant. The new CM cabin would be verified by full boilerplate flame tests. Design work was under way on a new unified hatch - a single integrated hatch to replace the double hatch and permit emergency exit in two seconds, yet remain safely sealed in flight. Emergency procedures were being revised. Spacecraft system design and qualification were being thoroughly reviewed. Alternative cabin atmospheres for checkout and launch were being studied, but during flight itself pure oxygen at 3.5-newtons-per-square-centimeter (5-pounds-per-square-inch) pressure still appeared safest for crews, with best balance among fire hazard, system reliability, and physiological risks.
First Apollo Block II spacecraft - CSM 101, the next in line at North American Aviation - was to incorporate all changes determined necessary by the investigation.
Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Apollo Accident: Hearings, 90th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 2, Feb. 27, 1967.