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the cold war was flourishing with the anger and hate of two of the world’s biggest nations at the time. There was not only a race to who had the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons but also a race to who was the first nation to step onto the moon. People need to remember that this was, and I believe that it still is, the most ambitious project in human history. The United States knew if they were to be the first nation to reach the moon, they would not only be acclaimed by the rest of the world but also gain an advantage over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

The planning for Apollo 1 began in 1958 in association with the US military air force and an organization now known as NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Even how ambitious the plan was, the government was not so sure as the investment they had made would be substantial.

It was the first time ever that humankind would travel such a far distance. This brought ahead many risks, as well as finding the right crew that would manage such a job. After a very long line of selection through hundreds of possible candidates, NASA has found the perfect three men for the mission.

Edward Higgins White II

Edward Higgins White II (USAV)

Born on the 14th of November 1930, he was one of the first crewmen who chose to become an astronaut because of his aeronautical engineering skills. His past experience as an Air Force officer and test pilot has helped him pass the tests that were thrown at the participants with ease, therefore proving he was right for the mission.

His previous mission in space also helped him. He was known as the first man to walk into space in the space mission Gemini 4 that took place on June 3rd, 1965.

Roger Bruce Chaffee

Roger Bruce Chaffee (USN)

Born on the 15th of February 1935, Roger came from a different background than the rest of the astronauts, as he was a Naval officer as well as an aviator. Before Apollo 1, he trained to become an aeronautical engineer and actually contributed well towards the build of Apollo 1, even if the rocket suffered a malfunction that would prove fatal in the end.

He was the youngest astronaut on Apollo 1. However, NASA believed that they needed as much diversity as possible to have a sustainable team once up there on the moon.

Virgil Ivan Grissom

Virgil Ivan Grissom (USAF)

Also known as Gus (a nickname given in the military), he was the oldest and most experienced astronaut, as he had undertaken two successful space missions before Apollo 1. Born on the 3rd of April 1926, he was one of the seven original national aeronautics and space administration’s projects Mercury astronauts.

As all things were getting prepared and these men were getting closer to their last day, the pressure was set not only by the nation of America but by the whole world. The launch date was set to be on 27 January 1967 at 12:55 GMT.

The fatal accident

The lethal accident occurred during the pug-out integrated test. The point of this test was to show all the space systems of Apollo 1 as well as the simulated launch. There was a problem with the microphone within the shuttle which was detected by Grissom. However, the T-10 minutes were already counting down.

Just before the launch, a significant voltage transient was recorded. This was caused by a surge in the AC bus two voltage that started a fire in the shuttle. These flames ignited combustibles, endangered pad personnel, and impeded rescue efforts. The burst of fire, together with the sounds of rupture, caused personnel to believe that the command module had exploded or was about to explode.

The fire was so violent that before the control center managed to send any help, the 3 astronauts were burned alive despite trying to escape. It is important to remember the great loss of 3 young and bright, courageous minds, but what is more important is to understand the vital mistakes that have taken place.

Grissom, White and Chaffee pose for a formal portrait (NASA)

It has taken NASA another ten attempts to actually reach the moon, which shows how ambitious they were but, at the same time, foolish. It is just one of those situations where you think you are prepared from every point of view to wait for someone to show you how weak your plan is.

Many critics have blamed the death of the three astronauts on bad or even inexisting contingency plans for such errors or accidents. At the same time, some say that even with so many years of planning, Apollo 1 felt a bit rushed, not only by the enthusiastic nature of the plan but also because of the pressure set by the space race of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the sacrifice of these men has never been wasted. NASA has learned an enormous amount, not only from a technical point of view but also that they need to have patience and launch when the time is right after many tests. This accident has also taught them that they are a long way from succeeding in their mission to land the first man on the moon.

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