tv CBS News Special Report on Apollo 1 Disaster CSPAN February 4, 2017 8:00am-8:35am EST
50 years ago, a flash fire uring launch rehearsal of apollo1 killed three astronauts. the were scheduled for rogram's first test flight a few weeks later on february 21st. up next on american history tv's cbs america, a half hour news special report originally broadcast at 11:00 p.m. eastern ime just a few hours after the 6:30 p.m. disaster.
an investigation later etermined that the astronauts died in seconds from asphyxiation and that the fire spread trical and rapidly due to excessive come pure le material and the oxygen environment inside the cabin. design also made rescue that crew ult and escape had not been adequately considered cbs news special report. this is mike wallace at the new york.om in low ca's first three apoll astronauts were trapped and launch pad test florida. kennedy inat cape kenn
chaffee -- roger that was a flash and it. the screen went blank, and he communication no from the astronauts. they died silently and apparently swiftly. bodies have been left in he spacecraft according to the latest information from the cape pending an investigation into disaster. president johnson tonight mourned the death of the three astronauts saying they gave
in the service of the nation. our brave men in uniform weather seeking the frontiers of the future mourn loss ll of us the tragic of three gallant and dedicated airmen. this film was shot about ten days ago at cape kennedy at the for the nother test aturn spacecraft and the 1 rocket. us grissom on the left, ed hite in the middle, and roger chaffee. preparing for his first space flight. rapids, michigan, he was an engineering graduate
of purdue university, the father small children. ed white, 36 years old, the father of two children, born of military family in san antonio, texas. of west point. and gus grissom of indiana, a graduate of purdue university. me here is the executive editor of the cbs news space unit. i wonder if you would tell us a little bit about the rocket and the space craft. certainly. 1b me here is the rocket. vehicle.he launch first stage. second stage. incidentally, this is not the vehicle that take u.s. will astronauts to the moon. this is an interim rocket that be using for the next couple of flights. hand now is n my the -- where the accident
occurred this afternoon. launch escape tower hich if this had happened on a launch day prior to flight and today, ch as occurred the thought here would have been that the launch escape tower spacecraft,aken the this is the command module where would have ts fly, taken them safely away. however, the type of accident this was and today, internal fire in here caused by oxygen which we'll talk about in a second. look at the larger model over here? >> certainly. that s the same thing we've been talking about. again, the launch escape tower. larger, about three times the size mock up here.we have this is the command module. this is where the astronauts were today. this is the service module where are lectrical systems housed in here.
the spacecraft today was in a system meaning 100% oxygen. the speculation tonight and i say it's speculation only is that there was some electrical problem possibly with fires or something of that nature but this is an ulation purely that electrical short circuit occurred and of course i think everyone knows what would happen of an electrical short circuit. the's our speculation as of moment, mike. >> the three men were to have gone up on february 21st for a 14-day -- >> that's right. upwards of two weeks. be aess is it was going to 10 or 11 day flight. > the latest news from cape kennedy and from the houston manned spacecraft center is that the flight of apollo 1 has now indefinitely. hallmark has been its
openness. consciousous -- regular preparations for each new space mercury ginning with gem nigh l of the series and now apollo 1, there's een a series of advanced and now apollo 1, there's been a series of advanced interviewed with the astronauts involved. a few weeks ago these three men this. about we begin with gus grissom's description of the spacecraft. here, steam vent lines and a lot of electronics around the outside. this part of the we can see the interior. you can see the three of us in our positions. on the left, ed in the
chaffee on the right. own below are sleep stations and then the seats -- actually they move forward a little bit standing roomt of in this area here. the area you're looking at here a navigation station. sextant are e and down here. if you can look up into this see, this is our main instrument panel. systems and their instruments are from about this over. roger has those to watch during our h and this station is primary watch station during orbit. normally we also have a man in the station. again, some of the center station here is taken up with guidance and navigation and facilities for ed. and the left side is a primary station for the -- our
ight ball and all of the instruments and switches to make our sps burns. can be flown actually flown from all three pilot positions. >> yes. the flight controls the elves are concerned, stick that flies is is moveable from the left to center to right lower equipment ay if we need to and we have two of them on board also. > that's sort of a quick tour but it's about as good as this model allows. mercury, then gemini, and now apollo. law of averages as far catastrophic failure bother you, sir? of ou have to put it out your mind. there's always the possibility failure.astrophic it can happen on any flight.
you just plan as best you can to care of all of these eventualities and get a well-trained crew, and you go fly. this spacecraft is a -- to a untried. t you're taking shakedown crews. with any ch it apprehension? no. i look forward a great deal to the first flight. there's a great deal of pride in making a first flight. so i think i'm looking forward the flight with a great deal of anticipation. scary aboutanything a first space flight even though ou've flown many hours in conventional aircraft, jet aircraft? >> i don't like to say anything's scary about it.
there's a lot of unknowns of lot of problems that could or might develop and they'll have to be solved. that's what we're there for. our business, to find out if this thing will work for us. i don't think it will be robably a whole lot worse than a guy that's making a first test flight on a new airplane. now, i've never done that, so i don't know. i think everyone kneels a little aprehencive. i don't see how you could help but feel a little bit excited, anybody is -- nk you know, i don't like to use the word scared. you're tely think considering what's involved there and thinking about it. how to handle it and take care of it and do the job. >> the flight you're about to another step toward the moon. we shouldophize
go to the moon? i think one of the ones a lot the ople forget about is nfluence the lunar program has on the young people in our country. our responsibility is to provide our vironment so that children will be able to grow up nto creative, useful, and good citizens. think that the space program more so than anything in the past has given a stimulus to the and the very young children even and a goal for hem and a purpose for them to educate themselves as well as they can to their own capability and to have even though they're not going to be obviously all astronauts but they -- if they start out with a certain oal when they're young and the goal is properly directed, these
young people i think have much of becoming nce useful and well educated who will take care of you and i when we get older and we don't have the capability to the world. the young people run our world for us when we get older. i guess this is one of the things that i feel most strongly about. but i also feel -- and this is i m a standpoint of man, think that if a civilization and i think if our country becomes obsessed with making t"the" for united states to live in and making our thatundings so comfortable e're in really an ever descending spiral right within ourselves and if we don't look expand don't try to ourself and expand our horizons which i think the space program biggest example of expanding your horizons man has
undertaken, we're not going to progress as a nation and practical e more viewpoint i think that it great opportunity for stimulating our industry which feeds right back items king the comfort that go back into making living good too. so i think from all standpoints, a good program. and why we want to go to the well, it's cally, the closest thing that we aven't explored to our earth and it's the first step into understanding the whole universe. ed white, the first american to walk in space aboard famed flight during the gemini series. 10:30 tonight eastern time, rescue teams began to remove the astronauts e three from the charred spacecraft
200 feet above launch pad 34. a nasa spokesman said the in the shipere left for four hours to aid the investigation into the tragedy. as i said, two of the three astronauts who died tonight the apollo had already flown in space. both made history. on june 3rd, 1965, ed white limbed out of the hatch of gemini 4 and became the first american to ride through the vacuum of space clad only in a space suit. ere is that historic flight described by ed white himself. >> this is actually looks like egress. what i tried to do is to a gun or ly with maneuver with a gun right out of the spacecraft. this time there was no push
from the craft. the gun provided the impulse to leave the craft. come rst time i tried to out, there i go, right now i'm leaving and it's under the influence of the gun. trying to maneuver over to y left in front of jim's window. maneuvered favoring just a little on the right but the gun is providing the impulse for my maneuv maneuvers. i'm actually work, the tether only, not the gun. after my first -- my actually second translation out n front of the spacecraft and back. and this is the time i made the statement i sure wish i had a fuel for my gun. pretty interesting though. i didn't mind getting back on the adapter section. actually take a look at the thruster areas, the
plumes of the thrusters as jim them to stabilize the spacecraft looked just the way i told they would look. came out about two feet from the look very and didn't ominous at all. this area was an area in which felt the heat would damage my suit. i was right above them about above them feet watching them fire at one time. >> that was ed white, one of the three astronauts who died aboard the apollo spacecraft on launch at cape rly tonight kentucky. the astronauts apparently died instantly. a gentry wrapped around the booster rocket, prevented the of the emergency escape system which would have been this up here at the top, the have taken theld spacecraft away from the rocket the at the only way that astronauts could have escaped would have been to open the
spacecrafte in their and scramble out and that simply officials ble space say that the three astronauts possibly had no knowledge that problem. a serious the spacecraft and rocket were fuelled. explosive devices could not have caused the disaster. cropped ficulties had up this afternoon with the communications system and the system andal control officials don't know whether the stemmeded from the two systems.me the man who was to command this known apollo flight was as the hard luck astronaut because of what was until with t the closest brush death of america's space program. us grissom clue the second mercury flight five years ago.
it was just an up and down ride rocket. red stone you see him here going aboard. perfect until splash do you know. >> the hatch blew off. water poured in. the capsule began to sink. helicopter was nearly dragged down as the capsule water.with sea finally another helicopter plucked this one from the water, wet, unhurt, and very surprised. finally another >> i'm just laying there and pow. went and i saw nothing but blue sky and water coming in. and sed my helmet off grabbed the instrument panel and pulled myself out. out 't even remember going the door. >> the latest news from nasa about the accident on pad 34 caused the death of the three astronauts.
he pad's safety crew was onto the pad and up to the tower about 15 minutes after the first indication of trouble this afternoon. at that point though was so intense that the rescue suffered ng masks smoke inhalation in spite of the masks. there were 27 men at the pad. 25 of the men suffered bad smoke inhalation but evidently they're all right. two are still under observation. doctors dashed up as soon as conditions allowed but by then it was too late to save the crew. for late information from washington, washington reaction to what happened at cape to our cbs go now studios in washington. > mike, four astronauts are in seclusion in a hotel room just a few blocks from where i'm sitting. cooper, dick gordon, neil
armstrong, and jim lovell. he did consent to a short interview from his room. the others are very shocked as gordon put it. hree of these men were our closest friends. the astronauts of course are a feel thisit group and quite deeply. while the astronauts are upset, be fair to say that they're broken hearted over this. right word he either. as test pilots, astronauts, they the dangers re of involved in this and seem most oncerned tonight with finding out just what went wrong. cooper said we're extremely anxious. we want to find out what caused it. the astronauts have been going ofr it, over and over it one the astronauts said ever since received that phone call. the phone has been ringing
as information comes to them from cape kennedy and houston. enough ll don't know about it to know what really happened. they know it happened during hat countdown just a few seconds prior to the simulated liftoff. cooper tended to doubt that it was in the environmental control system although he said that there had been trouble with it earlier in this count and in the apollo program. owever, he seemed to feel that that had been licked. there's also been a history of lectrical problems in the apollo spacecraft. he gave a rather short bitter before saying we thought it was cleared up. he also admitted that it could be the electrical system but that, that would be a conjecture tonight. astronauts, d the grissom, white, and chaffee just day and said gus was quite pleased with the spacecraft. they all were. it.ted about thought they had everything under control.
and then finally the last words cooper and the others said, we want to make it clear that we ahead. forge as for the space program, they said we've got to be sure now we don't stall it out just because of this. also in town today were a number officials of nt the space program and dan rather tracked down several of them. >> thank you, dave. apollo dinner at the international club here in washington was held shortly the outer igning of space treaty at the white house this afternoon. all of the top space officials for this apollo dinner this evening at the club.national present also were some business people involveded in the space project. it was really a blue ribbon group of space officials, business and industry at the athered international club for what was to have been a rather gay la occasion. some congressmen and senators la
occasion. some congressmen and senators present. we're all members of team. out exactly what happened and we want to make sure the american people have he correct facts and all of facts but we simply have very few facts at the moment. he vice president as he came out of the building sad faced, he told me personally i think statement ohnson's country.or the entire
president johnson's official statement from the white house valiant quote three young men have given their lives in national service and we mourn hearts goloss and our out to their families. echoed those dent sentiments. as the apollo meeting broke up, seemed in the room quite anxious to leave the room. some of those there didn't seem to act. know how a few simply shrugged their you ders and said what can say. others sought us out to say the one thing we want you to make is that no one in this program wants to give up or take backwards step. ne of the veteran names in the american space program was there and at first he wouldn't say anything at all saying i'm a of the team and i can't say anything. we're not supposed to say anything. finally he just couldn't contain himself and started to talk to us a bit.
the studio come to and give anything approaching a full interview but what he said sticks one thing that out in my mind is he said all the astronauts live on a first death.sis with these men know the risks. they thought the risks were worth taking. now, he also said that -- and, mike, i don't know if this was -- this is a r von braun.e from he said we know there was a test conditions anden the men probably died from because after the fire broke out in the capsule, hey could not be evacuated in time. all of the oxygen burned up. this is dan rather in washington. now back to mike wallace in new york. >> according to the latest nasa at the rom manned spacecraft center in houst the first -- houston,
he first apollo flight has now been postponed indefinitely. however, one of the -- walter cunningham, there is a spacecraft at north american aviation out in california which job of the er the damaged apollo spacecraft but perhaps a month and a half of qualifying tests or that spaceship and then perhaps another month and a half of simulated tests down at cape are, it will nces be three months before apollo 1 ground. the again, that is speculation john glenn of course is one names in the own american space program now out working astronaut. some months ago, astronaut john asked whether space is safe. >> oh, quite the opposite. to lose a all expect man sometime.
we're working just as hard as we can work against it of course anything where you have equipment like this, high speed, equipment, we're not hiding our head in the sand. we're well aware someone will knocked off on some mission or another but just as in friends many of our have been killed in aviation. aviation 't mean progress doesn't stop. this program is worth running when ere will be times people probably will get hurt. but the program will go on and we're not going to stop our efforts. we want to make it just as safe as we can possibly make it. flanked by the deke us grissom and by slayton of the space program. veteran of the space is walter cronkite.
these men were your friends. ou knew gus grissom from the beginning at cape kennedy. >> yes, indeed, mike. true and it rse does hit me hard. it's got to hit every american that matter no matter how well you knew these men personally or not. through the evening we've referred to gus grissom as of hard luck guy because what happened to him in that econd sub orbital mercury flight when his capsule went down but, you know, gus said to some umbrage at this being called the hard luck no astronaut, pilot, wants to have that laid against his name. me once, he said, i'm not the hard luck guy. i'm the good luck guy. i'm the guy who came out of the ocean.e that sank in the and this was his attitude toward the whole matter i think of space program. i would like to comment if i may
quickly, mike, on a couple of things that have been mentioned this last fivein hours since we knew of the tragedy. of an escape tower. from what i have heard and aye een talking to the cape in these last several minutes to several of my friends down there i gather, this wouldn't have helped a bit. if the escape tower had been no evidence ere's that it was and probably was works on pyrotechnics on the blast of its rocket. even if it had been, even if the gentry had not been around the spacecraft to prevent it, all the evidence of crews who have been up there, these men could not have escaped anyway.
pparently they died absolutely instantly which points to this most frequently mentioned an oxygen fire. all can understand i think oxygen -- the danger of oxygen even if we don't know how fast it works because probably a few of us who have not all can seeing a friend under an oxygen tent at the red tal with all those signs warning against smoking. ure oxygen is highly volatile volatile. nd apparently it went and went fast. these men were breathing pure oxygen. part of sense were this immediate momentary by the second disaster. disaster.d and if there is anything that about their alize deaths, it undoubtedly was instantaneous.
-- instantaneous. have been on that horn even to report if they'd known they were about to go, ity would have reported what was so that the rest of the program would know. men they kind of were. i think that one thing should be said. a time for great sadness. national sadness and certainly sadness of the people in the space program but it's also a time for courage and trite, i'll s change the word to guts. he thing that these fellows said on the film you showed earlier, the thing that everyone program has been saying tonight and have been a test hat this is program. we knew it was a test program. these guys going into it knew that. test program with equipment of this nature as with airplanes, anything marines, where you're operating in a
hostile environment which space s and this was a hostile environment even if they were on the ground because of this pure oxygen and these other things. this program is bound to claim its victims. these fellows, every one of them test pilots. they have flown highly sophisticated aircraft and seen buddies go down. i don't know -- i couldn't begin i don't knowecause the number of test pilots who have died in this country since of our space program. these are the first astronauts a direct accident related to the space program. ourhould not be a cause for turning back or having any in our of faltering progress forward toward the landing on the moon. be robably are going to delayed. it may be possible to make up the time. it seems a little doubtful. we may be able to consolidate
flights. of eans maybe a couple months delay. it could push us from late 68 to 69. 69 to 70 if something else happens. but there's going to be a delay. but certainly it should not in damage our national resolve to press on with the program for which these men gave their lives. >> thank you, walter. >> so to sum up, america's first three apollo astronauts were killed by a flash fire that swept their apollo pacecraft early tonight in a launch pad test at cape kennedy. and rissom, ed white, rookie astronaut roger chaffee training for his first space flight. flight scheduled for february 21st now postponed indefinitely. three men aboard ei