Tragedy strikes

Almost six hours into the test, an electrical spark started a catastrophic fire in the capsule (see over). The flames spread rapidly in the CSM's pure oxygen atmosphere, and difficulties opening the hatch sealed the fate of the crew, who died from smoke inhalation as they struggled to escape.

NASA immediately established a review board that looked into every aspect of the spacecraft design and reached some damning conclusions. Although built by North American Aviation, Apollo's design was ultimately determined by NASA, and several suggestions made by the contractor to improve safety had been overruled. The board recommended a huge number of changes, including a less volatile atmosphere, removal of flammable materials, and more than 1,400 wiring improvements.

Despite the shock of losing three astronauts, there was little talk of abandoning Apollo, and NASA had soon put together a recovery plan. Grissom, White, and Chaffee's AS-204 test mission was retrospectively renamed Apollo 1, and a series of unmanned tests would follow, with Apollo 7 as the next manned launch if all went well.

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