The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.

Part 1 (G)

Preparation for Flight, the Accident, and Investigation

March 1 through March 16, 1967


March 1

Apollo 204 Review Board Chairman Floyd Thompson announced that the NASA Deputy Administrator had signed a memorandum February 27 designating the Director, Langley Research Center, custodian of the Review Board material.

Maxime Faget, MSC, presented a plan for screening equipment removed from the CM. The plan was intended to reduce the effort and time required to investigate and analyze the equipment. The Board agreed that the Panel Coordination Committee would establish an ad hoc committee to perform the screening.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-25.

March 2

MSC ASPO reported to NASA Hq. that, because of many wiring discrepancies found in Apollo spacecraft 017, a more thorough inspection was required, with 12 main display control panels to be removed and wiring visually inspected for cuts, chafing, improper crimping, etc. The inspection, to begin March 2, was expected to take three or four days.

The two crates containing the mission control programmer (MCP) for CSM 017 had been delivered to Orlando, Fla., February 26 with extensive damage. Damage indicated that one crate might have been dropped upside down; its internal suspension system was designed for right-side-up shock absorption. The second crate contained holes that might have been caused by a fork lift. The MCP was returned to Autonetics Division of North American Aviation for inspection; barring dynamic programmer problems, the equipment was expected to be returned to KSC by March 7. The crates bore no markings such as "This Side Up" or "Handle with Care."

Ltr., Assistant Manager, ASPO to NASA Hq., Attn: Samuel C. Phillips, "ASPO Weekly Project Status Report to MSF," March 2, 1967.

March 3

The Apollo 204 Review Board decided to classify all material from command module 012 as Category A or Category B items. Category A would include all items that were damaged or identified as suspect or associated with anomalies. Category B would include items that appeared to be absolved of association with the January 27 accident; these would be available to the Apollo Program Office for use in nondestructive tests, but the Board would require copies of all test reports. Frank Borman, MSC, announced that disassembly of the command module was scheduled for completion by March 10.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-26.

March 6

Although the final recommendations of the Apollo 204 Review Board were not yet in hand, MSC Deputy Director George M. Low believed the program "should start preparing a set of criteria which must be followed before we can resume testing in an oxygen environment. These criteria can then be used either to allow us to sign waivers on our testing embargo, or to go forward with additional messages, permitting testing, provided our criteria are met." He said the criteria would probably differ for:

  1. spacesuit testing,
  2. testing in oxygen chambers, and
  3. testing within spacecraft.
"They would probably include such things as the exact environment within and outside the exclosure; the type of flammable material; safety precautions and procedures; and emergency procedures."

Memo, Low, MSC, to A. C. Bond, MSC, "Resumption of testing in an oxygen environment," March 6, 1967.

March 7

During a House Committee on Science and Astronautics hearing on NASA's FY 1968 authorization, NASA Administrator James E. Webb replied to questions by Congressmen John W. Wydler, Edward J. Gurney, and Emilio Q. Daddario about the impact of the Apollo 204 accident on schedules for accomplishing the lunar landing. Webb said:

"As the man asked by President Kennedy and later by President Johnson to take the responsibility for this program, I have provided to you information showing the need for the 12 Saturn l-B's and the 15 Saturn V vehicles, and have stated that if we could get the kind of developed performance out of these vehicles on the early flights that would give us confidence that we could turn some of the earlier flights loose to go to the Moon, we might do this earlier than later.

"I have stated that if it took all 15 Saturn V's to complete the mission, it would not be done in this decade.

"Now the charts that you have seen this morning show that we are going to exercise the Apollo Command Module, the Service Module, and the Lunar Excursion Module around the Earth with the Saturn I-B vehicle, and that we will be doing this in this year and next year.

"It also shows that if we can fully test out and be very sure of the performance of the Saturn V vehicle with all of the equipment that is riding on it, we would put men into the third or more likely the fourth vehicle. Now that vehicle will have on it everything necessary to go to the Moon. But I cannot tell you today that it will be turned loose to the Moon even if everything on it is perfect, because my judgment as Administrator is that we are going to exercise this equipment around the Earth more than that before we start for the Moon.

"On the other hand, if everything is working perfectly, it would be logical to start; whether we get halfway and come back, I don't know. But many people who are very optimistic have assumed that because you plan now before any large rocket has ever flown to put all the equipment on the fourth flight that you are going to completely succeed and therefore you will in fact turn that loose to the Moon next year.

"I do not believe so, and have so stated time and time again, publicly and to this committee.

"I would like to say one other thing. In order to mobilize this effort to make everything fit together, we have prepared schedules that have target dates on them, and the target date for flying the fourth Saturn V has been in the summer or early fall of 1968. So many people have said, 'What is the earliest time you could go, isn't that really your target?' Well, obviously we want to go as soon as we can, and obviously if everything worked perfectly, this vehicle would be fully equipped to go. But my own judgment is that if we get this done by the end of 1969, we will be very, very fortunate; that the chance that we will do so, the odds that we will do so, the possibility of doing all the work necessary is less this year than it was last. And I testified at this table last year that it was less at that time than it had been the previous year. So we have had in my judgment some accumulation of difficulties which make the problem of doing it in this decade more difficult. But it is still not out of the picture, and shall I say, not impossible, although almost impossible to think of a 1968 date."

House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1968 NASA Authorization: Hearings, pt. 1, 90th Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 28, March 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 1967, pp. 186-87.

March 7

The aft heatshield was removed from CM 012. A close inspection disclosed that the rupture in the floor extended about two-thirds of the circumference, a rupture much greater than originally estimated.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-27.

March 8

Maxime A. Faget, MSC, presented the Apollo 204 Review Board a follow-up report on analysis of the arc indication on the lower-equipment-bay junction-box cover plate. The plate had been delivered to the KSC Material Analysis Laboratory and, in addition to the analysis of the arc indication, molten material found on the bottom of the plate would also be analyzed.

"Board Proceedings," p. 3-27.

March 8

NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George E. Mueller stated that the February completion of MSFC studies of the Saturn V launch vehicle's payload and structural capability would permit an official revision of the payload from 43,100 kilograms to 44,500 kilograms; the CM weight would be revised from 5,000 to 5,400 kilograms; and the LM from 13,600 to 14,500.

Memo, Mueller to Seamans, "Weights of Major Apollo Flight Systems for Official Quotation," March 8, 1967.

March 10

J. Thomas Markley, Assistant Manager of ASPO, pointed out that within a few weeks MSC would face sustaining engineering problems. Many subcontractors not affected by the January 27 Apollo 204 accident would be phasing out of work; also many of them would be out of business long before the major flight program would start. He asked, "How do we now retain that talent for some necessary period of time?" He requested that Systems Engineering define requirements for retaining the technical capability for the overall systems, as well as the unique subsystem capability potentials that might need to be retained. He requested the package be prepared for his review by April 3.

Memo, Markley to John B. Lee, R. W. Williams, and J. G. McClintock (all of MSC), "Sustaining Engineering," March 10, 1967.

March 13

The Apollo 204 Review Board met with chairmen of Panels 12, 16, 19, and 20 (see February 7 and following entries) for critical review of their draft final reports. The reports were accepted subject to editorial corrections. The Witness Statements Panel (Panel 12) task had been to collect all data from witnesses of the 204 accident, including both eyewitnesses and console monitors, and to prepare the data for publication as appendix to the formal report. The panel also was to analyze the sequence of events and summarize any testimony that was contradictory to the main data.

Eyewitnesses and television and audio monitors from 18 agencies and contractors had been queried. Responses from 590 persons totaled 572 written and 40 recorded statements - adding up to 612 statements obtained (some persons submitted more than one statement or were interviewed twice). The sequence of events, as reconstructed from witness statements, follows:

Between 6:31:00 and 6:31:15 p.m. EST Jan.27, 1967
Witnesses in launch vehicle aft interstage, Level A-2:
Felt two definite rocking or shaking movements of vehicle before "Fire" report. Unlike vibrations experienced in past from wind, engine gimbaling, or equipment input.
Witnesses on Levels A-7 and A-8:
Heard "Fire" or "Fire in Cockpit" transmissions. Heard muffled explosion, then two loud whooshes of escaping gas (or explosive releases). Observed flames jet from around edge of command module and under White Room.
TV monitors:
Heard "Fire" or "Fire in Cockpit" transmissions. Observed astronaut helmet, back, and arm movements; increase of light in spacecraft window; and tonguelike flame pattern within spacecraft. Observed flame progressing from lower left comer of window to upper right; then spreading flame filled window, burning around hatch openings, lower portion of command module, and cables.
Between 6:31:15 and 6:33 p.m. EST
Witnesses on Levels A-7 and A-8:
Repeated attempts to penetrate White Room for egress action. Fought fires on CM, SM, and in White Room area.
TV monitors:
Observed smoke and fire on Level A-8. Progressive reduction of visibility of spacecraft hatch on TV monitor because of increasing smoke.
Between 6:33 and 6:37 p.m. EST
Repeated attempts to remove hatch and reach crew. Spacecraft boost protective cover removed by North American personnel J. D. Gleaves and D. O. Babbitt. Spacecraft outer hatch removed by North American personnel J. W. Hawkins, L. D. Reece, and S. B. Clemmons. Spacecraft inner hatch opened and pushed down inside by Hawkins, Reece, and Clemmons, approximately 6:36:30 p.m. EST. No visual inspection of spacecraft interior possible because of heat and smoke. No signs of life.
Between 6:37 and 6:45 p.m. EST
Remains of fires extinguished. Fire and medical support arrived. Fireman J. A. Burch, Jr., and North American technician W. M. Medcalf removed spacecraft inner hatch from spacecraft. Examination of crew and verification of condition.
Between 6:45 p.m. EST Jan. 27 and 2:00 a.m. EST Jan. 28
Service structure cleared. Photographs taken. Crew removed. Complex and area under secure conditions. Personnel from Washington and Houston arrived and assumed control.
In its final report to the Review Board the panel indicated it believed that all persons with pertinent information regarding the accident had been queried.

"Board Proceedings" and Append. D, "Panels 12 thru 17," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board to the Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, April 5, 1967, pp. 3-28, 3-29, and D-12-3 through D-12-12.

March 13

The report of the Apollo 204 Review Board's In-flight Fire Emergency Provisions Review Panel (No. 20) listed seven findings and accompanying determinations. The panel had been charged with reviewing the adequacy of planned inflight fire emergency procedures and other provisions, as well as determining that emergency procedures existed for all appropriate activities. Among findings and determinations were:

  • Finding - An inflight fire procedure was published and available to the Apollo 204 crew. The procedure was analyzed with reference to the Apollo 204 CM 012 configuration.
  • Determination - Existing inflight fire procedures were deficient in the following areas:
    1. Turning off the cabin fans should be the first item of the procedural check list. This might help prevent the spread of fire by minimizing cabin air currents.
    2. The procedure should have specified the length of time to keep the cabin depressurized to ensure the fire had been extinguished and that all materials had cooled to below their ignition temperature.
  • Finding - The command module depressurization time to drop from 3.5 to 0.4 newtons per square centimeter (from 5 to 0.5 pounds per square inch) could vary from 1 minute 45 seconds to 3 minutes 20 seconds, according to the flight-phase ambient temperature.
  • Determination - The depressurization time was too slow to combat a cabin fire effectively
"Board Proceedings" and Append. D, "Panels 19 thru 21," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board, pp. 3-29 and D-20-3 through D-20-9.

March 13

The Special Tests Panel (No. 16) report to the Apollo 204 Review Board summarized activities from January 31 to February 23, when it had been merged with Panel 18. Panel 16 had been established to coordinate tests by other groups into an overall coordinated test plan. For example, flammability would be tested at several locations and the panel would ensure coordination. Major tests such as mockups of actual configurations and boilerplate destructive combustion tests would be considered by the panel. (See March 31 for Panel 18 report).

"Board Proceedings" and Append. D, "Panels 12 thru 17," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board, pp. 3-29 and D-16-3.

March 14

The Service Module Disposition Panel (No. 21) report accepted by the Apollo 204 Review Board said test results had failed to show any SM anomalies due to SM systems and there was no indication that SM systems were responsible for initiating the January 27 fire.

Panel 21 had been charged with planning and executing SM activities in the Apollo 204 investigation, beginning at the time the Board approved the command module demate. The task was carried out chiefly by Apollo line organizational elements in accordance with a plan approved by the Board and identifying documentation and control requirements.

The panel's major activities had been:

  • Demating the service module and service module-lunar module adapter from the launch vehicle and moving them to the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building.
  • Inspecting the exterior and interior areas of the service module.
  • Making detailed system tests of all service module systems that were mechanically or electrically connected to the command module at the time of the accident.
"Board Proceedings," and Append. D, "Panels 19 thru 21," Report of Apollo 204 Review Board, pp. 3-29 and D-21-3 through D-21-6.

March 14

Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips appointed a team to make a special audit of quality control and inspection. The audit would encompass Apollo spacecraft operations at Downey, Calif., KSC, and elsewhere as required and would consider both contractor and government activities to determine if problems or deficiencies existed and recommend corrective action. The team was to use to the maximum extent the results of quality and inspection audit activities already under way at MSC and KSC.

Specifically, the team was to

  1. review inspection standards for compatibility with Apollo program requirements, the degree to which these standards had been reduced to effective instructions and criteria for use by individual inspectors, and consistency between sites;
  2. evaluate at each activity the program for selection, training, and evaluation of quality control and inspection personnel;
  3. evaluate the adequacy of follow-up, closeout action and treatment by management of reported discrepancies in quality reports, failure reports, and program action requests;
  4. evaluate the effectiveness of materials and parts control in ensuring that all materials and parts in end items as well as those used in processing and testing were in accordance with drawings and specifications; and
  5. evaluate methods used to ensure quality of product from vendors and subcontractors.
Phillips named Rod Middleton of NASA OMSF to chair the team. Other members were Willis J. Willoughby, OMSF; Martin L. Raines, White Sands Test Facility; John Berkebile, MSFC; John D. Dickenson, KSC; and Jeff Adams and Robert Blount, MSC. Phillips requested a report by March 31.

TWX, NASA Hq. to MSC, MSFC, KSC, and White Sands Test Facility, March 14, 1967.

March 15

CSM 017 was in hold because of numerous discrepancies found in the spacecraft (see also March 2). Of 1,368 "squawks" concerning exposed wiring, 482 had been resolved by March 14. Spacecraft mechanical mating with the launch vehicle was projected for April 29 (but see also April 10 and June 20).

Ltr., Assistant Manager, ASPO, MSC, to NASA Hq., Attn: Samuel C. Phillips, "Weekly Project Status Report to MSF," March 15, 1967.

March 15

MSC informed Kennedy Space Center that, on release of the 012 service module from further investigation, the MSC Apollo Spacecraft Program Office would use it for program support. ASPO was establishing tests and test locations and asked KSC to deactivate SM systems and store the SM in a remote area for up to four weeks.

TWX, J. Thomas Markley, Assistant Manager ASPO, MSC, to Eugene McCoy, KSC, March 15, 1967.

March 15

MSC Director of Flight Crew Operations Donald K. Slayton requested that a rendezvous of the CSM with its launch vehicle S-IVB stage be a primary objective of the Apollo 2 mission [i.e., Apollo 7; Slayton apparently wanted to acknowledge only scheduled manned flights in the sequentially numbered Apollo missions]. He stated that the exercise could be conducted after the third darkness without interference with normal spacecraft checkout. "We believe a rendezvous with the booster on the first manned Apollo mission would be compatible with developing lunar mission capability at the earliest opportunity and request its incorporation into the primary mission objective." A memorandum from Flight Operations Director Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., on April 18 recognized "the need for CSM active rendezvous early in the Apollo flight program, but recommends that rendezvous not be considered during the first day of the Apollo 7 [the official flight designation for the first manned flight] mission. . . ." and presented four reasons:

  1. the initial manned flight should concentrate on systems,
  2. there was a reasonable probability that system problems or other unknowns would cause cancellation of rendezvous activity,
  3. the early part of a first-of-a-kind mission was open-ended, and
  4. crew and flight control experience was limited in updating and preparing for contingency deorbit, which would be further complicated by maneuvering effects on the orbit.
The Flight Operations Directorate recommended "that any rendezvous activity be scheduled after a minimum of one day of orbital flight, and that it be limited to a simple equiperiod exercise with a target carried into orbit by the spacecraft."

Memos, Director of Flight Crew Operations to Manager, ASPO, "Rendezvous exercise for the Apollo 2 Mission," March 15, 1967; Director of Flight Operations to Manager, ASPO, and Director of Flight Crew Operations, "Proposed rendezvous exercise for the Apollo 7 mission," April 18, 1967.

March 16

LeRoy E. Day, NASA OMSF, suggested to Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips that, "if we are going to achieve a tight schedule of redesign and test activity as a result of AS-204 [accident], a number of changes in our mode of operation may be necessary." He recommended a concerted effort to systematize and discipline the scheduled reporting system between OMSF, ASPO, and the contractor. Day further suggested monthly "Black Saturday Reviews" by ASPO with OMSF participation. The reviews would be detailed and cover all spacecraft activities and should be given against the same set of baselines as all program reviews. Slips against such schedules would have to be thoroughly reviewed and a recovery plan developed.

Note, Day to Phillips, "Spacecraft redesign/test activity," March 16, 1967.