Unmanned launches

The peculiarities of NASA's mission numbering system meant that the next official Apollo launch was Apollo 4, the first all-up test of a Saturn V. launcher The sight of the mighty rocket thundering

27 January 1967

The crew of AS-204 are killed by a fire in their CSM during training.

5 April 1967

The Apollo 204 review board delivers its report to NASA Administrator James Webb.

4 May 1967

NASA renumbers the Apollo missions, designating AS-204 as Apollo 1 at the request of Gus Grissom's widow.

9 November 1967

Apollo 4 sees the successful launch of the first Saturn V rocket.

22 January 1968

The Apollo 5 mission conducts tests of the LM engines in Earth orbit.

VIEW FROM THE TOP

This stunning view from the top of the Vertical Assembly Building shows the Saturn V rocket stacked in preparation for the Apollo 4 launch. Despite the size of the VAB, the fully stacked Saturn V, on top of its crawler transporter, was too tall to fit in, and the lightning conductor at the rocket's tip hod to be erected after it left the building.

27 January 1967

The crew of AS-204 are killed by a fire in their CSM during training.

5 April 1967

The Apollo 204 review board delivers its report to NASA Administrator James Webb.

4 May 1967

NASA renumbers the Apollo missions, designating AS-204 as Apollo 1 at the request of Gus Grissom's widow.

9 November 1967

Apollo 4 sees the successful launch of the first Saturn V rocket.

TECHNOLOGY

THE VEHICLE ASSEMBLY BUILDING

VIEW FROM THE TOP

This stunning view from the top of the Vertical Assembly Building shows the Saturn V rocket stacked in preparation for the Apollo 4 launch. Despite the size of the VAB, the fully stacked Saturn V, on top of its crawler transporter, was too tall to fit in, and the lightning conductor at the rocket's tip hod to be erected after it left the building.

into the Florida skies in November 1967 did a great deal to restore American belief in the Apollo programme in the wake of the fire, and the mission went flawlessly, with an empty CSM splashing down just a few kilometres off target after running through a series of orbital manoeuvres.

In January 1968, Apollo 5 saw a Saturn IB launch an unmanned lunar module for testing in Earth orbit, and in April, a second unmanned Saturn V launch, despite some glitches, was considered enough of a success to qualify the rocket for manned flights.

22 January 1968

The Apollo 5 mission conducts tests of the LM engines in Earth orbit.

4 April 1968

Apollo 6, the second test launch of Saturn V, develops "pogoing" oscillations during launch due to uneven engine burn, then suffers a failure of two second-stage engines. However, with some modifications the Saturn V is eventually approved for crewed spaceflight.

9 October 1968

Modifications to the Apollo spacecraft following the Apollo 1 fire are formally completed.

MOMENT OF TRIUMPH

Wernher von Braun (centre, standing) watches the launch of Apollo 4 at Kennedy Space Center. To his left is George Mueller, head of NASA's manned spoceflight programme. Saturn V was a personal triumph for von Braun, but the Apollo programme effectively derailed the Huntsville team's detailed vision for the conquest of space. In 1970, von Broun was asked to lead NASA's strategic planning, but he left the agency in 1972, working in private industry until his death in 1977.

Building the world's largest rocket called for a truly vast hangar, one of the world's largest buildings. Construction work on the Vertical (later Vehicle) Assembly Building or VAB got under way in 1962. The towering building is still one of the world's biggest enclosed spaces - 160m (525ft) high, with four times the volume of the Empire State Building. It contained construction equipment and cranes to assemble the Apollo components, which arrived by barge and aircraft from the various contractors, on top of a huge crawler transporter that then carried the rocket to its pad. Today it is still used for V assembling components of the Space Shuttle system.

DOOMED CREW

Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee pose for a photograph with a model of the Command Module in which they would die.

EXPERIENCE

FIRE ON THE LAUNCH PAD

Apollo 1 ... a tragic start

"We've got fire in the cockpit!"

The fire that devastated the Apollo capsule during the AS-204 ground test claimed the lives of three of America's best and brightest astronauts. And the investigations that followed it laid NASA open to criticism of its management and safety procedures for the first time.

Seconds later came another cry: "We've got a bad fire - let's get out!". On the television monitors, Ed White was briefly seen struggling to open the hatch, but its design was complex - even in practice, no astronaut had succeeded in getting it open in the suggested 90-second timeframe. Outside, the ground crew also struggled to open the hatch, but they were beaten back by fire as the capsule ruptured. By the time they got the hatch open, the astronauts were dead.

"The catastrophe having occurred at Cape Kennedy on 27 January 1967 is a tragedy not only for the United States of America. The sorrow of American people is shared by peoples of all countries. In reality, cosmonauts are somehow representatives of the whole Earth, of the entire mankind in the boundless Cosmos, no matter what country has dispatched them."

Soviet Embassy press release, 1 February 1967

ROAD TO DISASTER

After months of ground rehearsals of every aspect of the mission, the Saturn I launch vehicle was stacked on the pad at Launch Complex 34, then the CSM, in its fairing, was winched into place. A launch date was set for 21 February 1967. On 27 January, the astronauts boarded the spacecraft as if preparing for a real launch.

DOOMED CREW

Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee pose for a photograph with a model of the Command Module in which they would die.

On 27 January 1967, the first Apollo crew, assigned at the time to an orbital test flight designated Apollo 204, boarded their Command and Service Module for a routine test that would, if successful, have paved the way for the first manned Apollo launch a few weeks later. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were to test the CSM's operation in "plugs out" mode - with all external power supplies withdrawn to simulate conditions in space. The test would include a full launch rehearsal.

The spacesuited crew boarded the Command Module at 13:00 local time, but a series of problems with the oxygen supply and faulty communications equipment caused repeated holds in the simulated countdown. By 18:30, the "launch" had reached T-10 minutes, but was again on hold. Then at 18:31 there came a chilling cry over the radio, probably from Roger Chaffee:

THE RACE TO THE MOON

Dedicated to the living memory of the crew of I ifthe Apollo wgM Sffiflmf— RHH IIP m f U.S.A.F. Lt. Colonel Virgil I. Grlssom i U.S.A.F. Lt. Colonel Edward H. White, II % ? U.S.N. Lt. Commander Roger B. Chaffee

Jf' They gave their lives in service to their country fA

i In the ongoing exploration of humankind's final ? > frontier. Remember them not for how they died

FIRE TRAP

The CSM had a two-part hatch with an inner section that opened inwards - unlike earlier and later spacecraft, it did not have explosive bolts for an emergency escape. Long before the 90-second nominal escape time, the capsule itself was a blazing inferno.

"If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we're in and we accept those risks.

The space programme is too valuable to this country to be halted for too long if a disaster should ever happen."

Gus Grissom, interviewed three weeks before the fire

INTERNAL DAMAGE

Highly flammable materials used inside the Command Module fed the fire and produced the toxic fumes that ultimately suffocated the crew.

The investigation that followed the fire was exhaustive and its conclusions about NASA's design specification for the Apollo CSM damning. Reconstruction of events in the capsule suggested that the fire had started in exposed wiring beneath Grissom's couch, spreading rapidly in the pure oxygen atmosphere. The nation went into mourning for their lost astronauts, while the CSM was grounded for extensive redesign. Most significantly, the atmospheric mix onboard was changed, the miles of wires and cables were given improved insulation, and the hatch was redesigned to permit opening in just 10 seconds.

"You know, I suppose you're much more likely to accept the loss of a friend in flight, but it really hurt to lose them in a ground test.

That was an indictment of ourselves. I mean because we didn't do the right thing somehow. "

Neil Armstrong, 2001

MEMORIAL PLAQUE

Launch Complex 34 is now abandoned and dismantled save for the concrete platform where this plaque commemorates the three astronauts who perished.

FIRE TRAP

The CSM had a two-part hatch with an inner section that opened inwards - unlike earlier and later spacecraft, it did not have explosive bolts for an emergency escape. Long before the 90-second nominal escape time, the capsule itself was a blazing inferno.

launch escape tower

Apollo Service Module(SM)

Apollo Command Module (CM)

Lunar Module fairing

Apollo Lunar Module (LM)

forward skirt cold helium spheres to pressurize hydrogen fuel-level sensor liquid hydrogen tank - 1,000,0001 (35,314 cubic ft) -

attitude-control motor

Rocketdyne J-2 engine liquid oxygen tank - 92,3501 (3,261 cubic ft)

instrument unit fuel-level sensors aft interstage

liquid hydrogen tank - 253,2001 (8,940 cubic ft)

launch escape tower

S-IVB THIRD STAGE

The upper stage of the Saturn V performed two main roles - it ignited directly after second-stage separation to reach a low-Earth orbit and then, after several orbits, it reignited to put Apollo on course for the Moon.

S-ll SECOND STAGE

The Saturn V's second stage is lowered towards the S-IC in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). A series of small solid-rocket ullage motors were used to keep up momentum during stage separations. They fired one second after the ex ho us ted first stage jettisoned, pushing the rest of the vehicle forward and away from the first stage and increasing the pressure of fuel in the second stage as its five J-2 engines ignited.

launch escape rocket

Apollo Command Module (CM)

Apollo Service Module(SM)

Lunar Module fairing

Apollo Lunar Module (LM)

forward skirt cold helium spheres to pressurize hydrogen fuel-level sensor liquid hydrogen tank - 1,000,0001 (35,314 cubic ft) -

instrument unit fuel-level sensors aft interstage

STACKING APOLLO 11

The CSM and LM were stacked at the top of the rocket, with the LM protected by an aerodynamic fairing and stowed beneath the CSM. An escape tower supported a rocket to pull the CM free of the vehicle in an emergency. Once en route to the Moon, the CSM separated from the S-IVB and turned around to dock with the LM and pull it free.

liquid hydrogen tank - 253,2001 (8,940 cubic ft)

attitude-control motor

Rocketdyne J-2 engine liquid oxygen tank - 92,3501 (3,261 cubic ft)

SPECTACULAR DEBUT

The first launch of a Saturn V was on the unmanned Apollo 4 test flight. For an all-up test, it went remarkably well - in 13 launches, the Saturn V never suffered a truly disastrous foilure.

MOUNTING THE SPACECRAFT

The elements of the Apollo spacecraft were combined at ground level and enclosed in a protective shroud before being hoisted to the top of the VAB and set on top of their launch vehicle.

TECHNOLOGY

A ROCKET FOR THE MOON

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WERNHER'S BABY

Wernher von Broun stands by the massive F-1 engines at the back of a Saturn V launcher (in fact o test vehicle kept at Huntsville). The challenge of reaching the Moon saw him finally abandon the clustered rocket concept of the Saturn I in favour of much larger propellant tanks supplying multiple engines.

liquid oxygen tank (inside liquid hydrogen tank) - 331,OOOI (11,689 cubic ft) \

ullage rocket liquid oxygen tank - 1,311,1001 (46,301 cubic ft)

S-1C ASSEMBLY

The first stage, seen here being lifted into place in the VAB prior to the Apollo 8 launch, was powered by five Rocketdyne F-1 engines burning liquid oxygen and kerosene from a pair of huge tanks.

fuel vent

SATURN V LAUNCHER

The complete Saturn V stood the height of a building of over 30 storeys. Transported to the pod empty, the weight of its propellonts caused it to shrink by 20cm (8in) as it was fuelled.

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