will rogers memorial center

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NASA displays Apollo 1 hatch to honor crew on 50th anniversary.

For over five decades, NASA kept the Apollo 1 spacecraft in storage at their Langley Research center in Hampton, Virginia. Memories of the fatal fire that claimed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967 were painful for the NASA family, and the capsule remained out of public view.

However, to honor the crew of Apollo 1 on the fire’s 50th anniversary, NASA has put the spacecraft’s three hatches on display at the Apollo/Saturn V center at Kennedy Space Center.

The Block 1 Apollo spacecraft, or the Earth-orbital version of the lunar spacecraft, had three hatches when it was on the launch pad. The Boost Protective Cover covered the spacecraft while on the pad and in the early stages of flight, and was mounted to the Launch Escape System.

The outer hatch formed part of the capsule’s exterior; both of these hatches opened outward and were secured by latches. The main hatch, which was the innermost of the three, opened inwards and was held in place by air pressure and latches. Capsule designers thought that in the event of a pressure leak in the capsule, the hatch would seal itself shut.

It was this inward-opening design that made escaping the fire nearly impossible on January 27. Once the fire started, air pressure in the capsule went up, further holding the hatch in place and trapping the astronauts inside.

The Apollo 1 spacecraft immediately following the deadly fire on January 27, 1967. The white Boost Protective Cover can be seen to the left and above the charred grey portion of the spacecraft’s exterior hull. The BPC would be jettisoned with the Launch Escape System a few minutes into the flight. Three hatches were used in the Block 1 spacecraft, two for the Apollo spacecraft itself and one in the BPC.

Although the hatches are the emotional centerpiece of the new exhibit, tributes to the astronauts also include some of their personal items and video displays. Kennedy Center director Bob Cabana stated that  “We have gone too far without a memorial for Gus, Ed and Roger here.”  The center worked with the surviving family members of the crew to create the exhibit, which is the first time any portion of the capsule has gone on display.

Preservationists involved with the creation of the exhibit stated that the capsule’s three hatches are shown exactly as they were when taken out of the storage crate at Langley. Infamous char markings can still be seen on the exterior of the Boost Protective Cover hatch and outward hatch.

Following the fire, NASA and the capsule’s prime contractor, North American Aviation, spent 18 months redesigning the capsule for future crews. The hatch was also redesigned, consisting of a single, outward opening hatch on the spacecraft and the Boost Protective Cover. The upgraded Block 2 hatch is seen next to Apollo 1′s.

The other hull of the Apollo 1 spacecraft is seen during investigation into the fire, mid-1967. The outer hull had one of three hatches now on display at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.