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  Apollo 1: Venting switch in command module?

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Author Topic:   Apollo 1: Venting switch in command module?
Peter downunder
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From: Lancefield, Victoria, Australia
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posted 04-24-2012 02:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter downunder   Click Here to Email Peter downunder     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have read years ago of a venting switch (for want of a better term) that was available to the Apollo 1 crew. Was there a switch that could have dumped the high pressure atmosphere in the spacecraft?

If it was available to the crew, would it have given them more time to exit the spacecraft?

Skylon
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posted 04-24-2012 04:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The crew took an action, like you are suggesting. They began venting the atmosphere in an attempt to starve the fire. There must have just been a switch considering how little time there was between first notice of the fire, and rupture of the hull.

moorouge
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posted 04-24-2012 06:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Skylon:
They began venting the atmosphere in an attempt to starve the fire.
Where did this come from? There is no mention of this action in the report of the accident review board. In fact the report says that one of the reasons for the inability to open the hatch was because the pressure relief valve was not coping, as detailed here -
With a slightly higher pressure inside the Command Module than outside, opening the inner hatch is impossible because of the resulting force on the hatch. Thus the inability of the pressure relief system to cope with pressure increase due to the fire made opening of the inner hatch impossible until after cabin rupture, and after rupture the intense and widespread fire together with rapidly increasing carbon monoxide concentrations further prevented egress.
No where is mentioned that the crew attempted to activate this valve.

garymilgrom
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posted 04-24-2012 07:26 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I believe the original poster is confusing a story from ASTP - where an atmospheric relief valve allowed toxic gases into the spacecraft. As Eddie (moorouge) posted, there was no relief valve mentioned at the time of the fire or the investigation into it.
quote:
Originally posted by Skylon:
There must have just been a switch...
I believe you meant to say there must NOT have been a switch (relief valve) to vent the pressure considering how quickly the hull ruptured after the fire broke out.

Also, while venting the interior to vacuum would stop a fire, venting the craft to 14psi sea level air would not necessarily achieve this.

Rick Boos
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posted 04-24-2012 07:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What you are referring to are the cabin dump valves that were located on Gus's side of the spacecraft, and yes Gus did activate them. As a matter of fact he hit them so hard that he bent them! He had to thrust his arm through a wall of flame.

His actions were to no avail because the cabin ruptured at the same time. I was alerted to this fact by Charlie Stevenson and Sam Beddingfield prior to my going to Langley to examine the remains of Apollo 1 back in 1990's.

Dumping the cabin pressure was a slower process then the actual rupturing event. The rupture was massive and was on Chaffee's side and ran from just across from his upper body area to his feet. Once the cabin ruptured the fire phase was over because the oxygen had been depleted and the smoke phase commenced.

As for Gus's actions not being addressed in the 204 review board report, it was referenced to but not addressed directly. A lot of testimonies were omitted from the final report. I had to correct Tom Hanks on the cabin dump valve issue during the making of "the fire" episode of "From The Earth To The Moon" miniseries.

garymilgrom
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posted 04-24-2012 08:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for that information Rick. I had never known that part of the story.

Peter downunder
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posted 04-24-2012 07:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter downunder   Click Here to Email Peter downunder     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for your responses. I knew the dump valve wouldn't have extinguished the fire, but may have helped in opening the hatch. The speed of the events obviously precluded any real chance of rescue from the disaster.

moorouge
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posted 04-25-2012 01:51 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've no reason to doubt Rick's account. However, what puzzles me is that the damage to the relief valve is not mentioned. Appendix D of the Review Board goes into great detail about anomalies found in the capsule both pre and post fire. It contains also a micro-second by micro-second record of sensor readings. Nowhere can I find any reference to the opening or otherwise of the cabin relief valve. I wonder why this is?

One other thing. As I read the report, the relief valve was item 1047/1048 removed from the capsule after the fire. A series of photos were taken both prior and post removal. Where are these and are they available?

ColinBurgess
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posted 04-25-2012 05:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ColinBurgess   Click Here to Email ColinBurgess     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For those of you with a copy of "In the Shadow of the Moon" (French/Burgess) the cabin dump valve episode mentioned by Rick Boos is related on page 149 of the book.

moorouge
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posted 04-26-2012 04:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm sorry, but I'm confused. The Apollo Accident Review, Appendix D on page D-1-14 says that there was only one switch in the emergency egress list that was activated and it was not the cabin dump valve.
Post Accident configuration

The Pad Emergency Egress Procedure specified in the Apollo Crew Abbreviated Checklist, page 15-2 (including planned changes), called for: Placing the CABIN RELIEF VALVE TO "DUMP";

One of the circuit breakers, "MASTER EVENT SEQ CONT ARM B BAT B" was found open. All the other controls listed above are in the pre-accident configurations.

Note that I have left out all the others on the list for clarity.

There is another anomaly in the report when one reads the account as recorded in Colin Burgess's book. According to the Accident Review -

Initial observations and subsequent inspection reveal the following facts. The Command Pilot's couch (the left hand couch) was in the "170 degree position", in which it is essentially horizontal throughout its length. The foot restraints and harness were released and the inlet and outlet oxygen hoses were connected to the suit. The electrical adapter cable was disconnected from the communications cable. The Command Pilot was lying supine on the aft bulkhead or floor of the Command Module, with his helmet visor closed and locked and with his head beneath the Pilot's headrest and his feet on his own couch. A fragment of his suit material was found outside the Command Module pressure vessel five feet from the point of rupture. This indicates that his suit had failed prior to the time of rupture (23:31:19.4 GMT) allowing convection currents to carry the suit fragment through the rupture.
This would, on the face of it, seem to be at odds with the Burgess account. Am I missing something?

Rick Boos
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posted 04-27-2012 12:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As for Grissom's electrical adapter cable being disconnected from the communications cable, I was told by Charlie Stevenson that he believes that Gus was in the process of changing out his cobra cable at the time of the fire. This would certainty be possible bearing in mind the communications problems Gus was having.

If you want to talk about discrepancies read all the accounts of the body positions of the crew, especially that of Gus. Some accounts have Gus trying to escape the fire going beneath couch level. This is totally and absolutely false.

The true body position of Gus was as described in your quote. Both Ed and Gus was found fused together in a molten mass beneath the hatch, still reaching for the hatch. Ed White's hand print was melted in the velcro of the hatch. That is why it took so long to remove the bodies.

As a side note, I edited the original script for the "fire" episode of "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries because they had Gus diving under the couch to escape the fire. The truth be known, the fire swept over and under the couches and below the couch and hatch was one of the hottest and most toxic areas because of the mattresses beneath the hatch and the path of flames.

All three of the astronauts performed their assigned emergency egress tasks as trained and under the most adverse conditions.

FFrench
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posted 04-27-2012 03:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Rick Boos:
If you want to talk about discrepancies read all the accounts of the body positions of the crew...
True also for their last words. If you listen to the final communications from the spacecraft (as I have), and then read the supposed transcripts that appear in various places - including the official reports - they are frequently slightly different from what was said.

moorouge
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posted 04-27-2012 03:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Rick Boos:
Some accounts have Gus trying to escape the fire going beneath couch level. This is totally and absolutely false.
So the official report is false then. This says:
From the foregoing it has been determined that in all probability the Command Pilot left his couch to avoid the initial fire, the Senior remained in his couch as planned for emergency egress, attempting to open the hatch until his restraints burned through and the Pilot remained in his couch to maintain communications until the hatch could be opened by the Senior Pilot as planned.
The report also records that the bodies were unable to be removed initially because:
It became apparent that extensive fusion of suit material to melted nylon from the spacecraft would make removal very difficult.
If you can't believe the official record, what can you believe?

Rick Boos
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posted 04-27-2012 05:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am well aware of that quote, just another discrepancy, and pure conjecture. The keyword is "probability."

For the life of me I can not understand why that quote was inserted in the official report when the evidence and facts doesn't support that theory. It's pure conjecture.

Gus activated the cabin dump valves, lowered Ed White's headrest and and attempted to help Ed with the hatch before going unconscious... that is a fact. Both Ed White and Gus Grissom's arms were found still reaching toward the hatch.

As I said earlier, the fire swept over and under the couches (see diagram in report) and under them was one of the worst places to be. Does it make any sense to try to escape there?

Besides, he was not found there as pointed out earlier. He was found on the floor of the spacecraft beneath the hatch, which to was a less then desirable place to be because of the molten mattress.

I would suggest that you read all the footnotes in the report and talk to people that were there upon hatch removal. As I said earlier, not all the statements were included in the "official report."

moorouge
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posted 04-28-2012 02:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Rick Boos:
...when the evidence and facts doesn't support that theory. Gus activated the cabin dump valves...
As I said originally, I've no reason to disbelieve your account. It's as valid as any other. However, I'm curious as to the evidence and facts that disprove the official version.

On one point, the official version is quite clear. The cabin relief valve, whose activation was part of the Emergency Egress checklist, was found to be still in it's pre-fire configuration. To quote from another section of the report:

By 23:31:12 GMT the fire had broken from its point of origin. Evidence is strong that a wall of flames extended along the left wall of the module, preventing the Command Pilot, occupying the left hand couch from reaching the valve which would vent the Command Module to the outside atmosphere. Although operation of this valve, located on a shelf above the left hand equipment bay, is the first step in established emergency egress procedures, such action would have been to no avail because the venting capacity was insufficient to prevent the rapid build-up of pressure due to the fire. It is estimated that opening the valve would have delayed Command Module rupture by less than one second.
Is this another oversight in the report?

Incidentally, the report can be read to mean that the fire was not as intense under the couches as above them.

Surely, the truth of the matter is that nobody will ever know for certain what was going on as the crew dealt with the fire. All there is to go on is the hard evidence of what was found and the telemetry read-outs. How one interprets this doesn't necessarily make it correct.

Nevertheless, it does raise one important question. If, Rick, your version is correct, why did NASA allow inaccuracies, for want of a better word, to be included in their 'official' report? This would appear to be in direct conflict with their mission objectives as stated in the preface to their findings.

Rick Boos
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posted 04-28-2012 08:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The cabin dump valves were located to the left of Gus Grissom's couch on a ledge. Charlie told me that to activate them you had to push them forward, make a little jig and then continue to push them the rest of the way.

When I examined the Apollo 1 spacecraft they were removed and hermetically sealed and boxed up. They were a top priority in my investigation to locate and examine.

Charlie and Sam told me where the master inventory list was located within the sealed storage facility, but when I arrived it was missing. Without that list it was impossible to know which box contained them. Sadly time was not on my side and I never found them.

According to Charlie, Gus made a swag at them thrusting his arm through a wall of flame and hit them so hard that they were found to be bent. Apparently Gus did not take the time to engage them properly. So I believe this accounts for the passage that says that they were not activated.

Were they engaged enough to dump? I cannot answer that because the cabin ruptured at the same time. The main point is is that Gus made the effort and was following emergency egress procedures.

His next action according to the escape plan was to lower Ed's headrest, which he did, and assist Ed with the removal of the hatch. I can tell you that while the hatches were not removed by the crew that they did make progress and broke the seal before going unconscious. This too was not mentioned in the official report other then saying that Ed managed to make a partial turn of the ratchet. This was very important and disturbing to me!

Proof? There was heavy smoke penetration and charring between the hatches. I have photos to prove this. Even if they would have had time before going unconscious chances are they would not been able to pull the inner hatch in a drop it below the hatchway sill.

Why do I say this? Because of the difficulty the crew had outside to remove that hatch. What happens to metal when you heat it? It expands. Need I say more? The inner hatch and doglegs were metal.

The people I interviewed were not run of the mill technicians but rather people in the know that headed the investigation. Why the report says one thing and they say something else, I cannot answer that. I ran into the same thing with Paul Haney.

There are other aspects of the investigation that really bother me as well, but I won't get into that. Originally I was going to co-author a book on this subject with Martin Caidin but he passed away before the project got off the ground, and any thoughts of doing a book also died.

Bottom line, nothing could bring the crew back, why open a box of worms?

As a little background on me, I devoted most of my life on the Apollo 1 fire and the sinking of Liberty Bell 7. Believe me I tried not to leave a stone unturned! I noticed discrepancies early on when Senator Margaret Chaise Smith sent me the Senate hearings.

garymilgrom
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posted 04-28-2012 09:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Why did NASA allow inaccuracies, for want of a better word, to be included in their 'official' report?
I believe I can answer this. My work exposes me to auto racing accidents, including fatalities; and the investigations into same.

Some posters seem to believe that:

  • Everyone involved in the Apollo 1 accident remembers everything that happened perfectly
  • Everyone involved in the Apollo 1 accident could later describe those events perfectly
  • Everyone involved in the Apollo 1 accident remembers the sequence of events and accident details in the same manner
I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Especially in a fatal accident, people are stunned and in shock for weeks or months. Friends, co-workers or loved ones have perished. Complex events have unfolded in seconds. Records of the event are scattered, damaged or non existent. Finally human nature causes us to worry as much about things like liability and consequences as much as the accident itself.

And so "official" reports are often incomplete. It's that simple - because we're dealing with humans, and humans are not perfect.

We are fortunate to have members on this forum with extensive first hand knowledge of events, as this knowledge allows us to filter official and other reports in ways that add to them, not detract from them.

In my experience there are always ambiguous, unknown or just plain unanswered details - that is inaccuracies - in every accident investigation.

ilbasso
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posted 04-28-2012 12:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well put, Gary. It's well-documented that several people estimated the length of time between the first "Fire in the cockpit" call and the hull rupture at "several minutes". It was actually less than 20 seconds.

moorouge
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posted 04-28-2012 01:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't disagree with the premise that there is all too often a discrepancy with the testimony of witnesses to an event. All the more reason for an impartial, thorough investigation which was the stated aim of the Apollo Accident Review Board.

The problem with this is that, again all too often, these findings are fitted to witness statements in order to bolster a theory or interpretation of the event for which there is no hard, indisputeable evidence.

As a further example. The account we are discussing as recorded by Rick says that the inner hatch was released by White. This may well be correct. However, the report says that this was not verifiable, to quote -

Whether the inner hatch handle was moved by the crew cannot be determined because the opening of the inner hatch from the White Room also moves the handle within the Command Module to the unlatched position.
This said, I've no way of proving that Rick is wrong in his description of what happened inside the capsule, nor do I wish to. Equally, he has no way of proving he is absolutely correct. All I've been trying to do is to point out that the facts and evidence as presented by the Review Board are open to other interpretations.

Skylon
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posted 04-29-2012 09:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sorry for the delay in my re-posting, but what originally left me with the impression that Apollo 1's crew took an action to vent the cabin was from "Lost Moon" aka "Apollo 13" and it was somewhat misremembered.

The exact quote was:

On the gantry, Gleaves heard a sudden whoosh coming from the command module, as if Grissom were opening the O2 vent to dump the spacecraft atmosphere - precisely what you'd want to do if you were trying to if you were trying to choke off a fire. (pg. 17 in my copy)
"As if" is a bit off from "This happened."

Fra Mauro
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posted 04-30-2012 10:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sounds like photographic evidence is the only way to resolve the dispute

jasonelam
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posted 09-18-2012 08:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A hypothetical question: Would it have been possible to break the window in the hatch, therefore venting the cabin? I know from the inside it would have been difficult, but from the outside?

Fra Mauro
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posted 09-19-2012 07:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Highly unlikely. The windows were not a single-pane glass like our auto glass, for instance. I think there was an out and inner pane and a vacuum in between during spaceflight. Factor in the time before the crew lost consciousness and the lack of a specific tool to shatter a window, and the odds seem impossible.

Jay Chladek
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posted 09-20-2012 11:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Main thing to keep in mind is regardless of whether or not the venting took place from the valves or due to the CM rupturing, the remaining oxygen getting vented would not only have choked off the fire a bit, but it also would have deprived the crew of breathing oxygen as well, especially if their suit hoses or if the oxygen tank lines in the CM were compromised. The fire doesn't necessarily go completely out, but it goes into a slower smoldering phase.

Yes, it would have been the start of a very smokey phase as the entire cabin would have been filled with fumes of who the heck knows what from all the burned plastics, paint and cloth. While the immediate fire danger would have been minimized, life certainly can't be maintained in that. Even if somebody had taken a fire axe to the hatch windows, the cabin interior is going to have A LOT more toxins and smoke in it than anything remotely resembling breatheable oxygen and it would remain that way for sometime until somebody gets the hatch opened to vent the smoke out further. Sticking an air hose into the hole would be incredibly dangerous as well since then you give a likely still smoldering fire an oxygen source and start up a fire again.

I believe Gus indeed made a stab for the vent valve/switch. But just remember that if you are reaching your hand in a bulky glove through a wall of flame towards something you can't see, I don't think you are going to be all that successful either. For one thing, the switch can't be seen. Secondly, tactile sensations from a gloved hand under the best of circumstances are going to be diminished. Granted the best pilots (and race car drivers) train with gloves on so they can feel for important switches without seeing them. But there are limits. Third, even if the arm might be insulated in the suit, there likely would be some heat transfer (such as through the metal lock ring), like grabbing a very hot tin even with an oven mitt (and one doesn't expect it on the arm or wrist as opposed to the palm of one's hand). So it is likely all Gus could do was make one blind stab at the switch and hope for the best. The bent switch suggests to me that he hit it with the force of somebody jerking the heck out of an ejection handle.

You've got adrenaline and fear at work inside a flame broiler, which doesn't always mean that the body is going to react the same as it will in a normal cabin during a simulation. I'm not necessarily suggesting Gus was panicking either since the actions of him trying to help White with the hatch opening procedure don't suggest that. But we can only imagine what he was seeing in front of that faceplate. It doesn't take panic to know that you are in a very serious situation that you are more or less powerless to do anything about it without some outside help. You can only do what you can and hope for the best.

As for how much pressure was needed to rupture the craft, according to "Handshake in Space" (NASA's ASTP document) an Apollo CM could handle up to an 8 PSI differential and the normal cabin pressure was no higher than 5 PSI at most on a typical mission. It wouldn't have taken too much to get to that with as fast moving as the fire was. The heat from the fire would have damaged various seals in the process as well.

Obviousman
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posted 09-21-2012 04:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Obviousman   Click Here to Email Obviousman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well said Jay.

SpaceAholic
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posted 09-21-2012 06:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Fra Mauro:
I think there was an out and inner pane and a vacuum in between during spaceflight
Two inner panes and an outer...

Independent of the cabin pressure relieve valves, the PLV's (Block I had them integrated into the forward hatch - relocated to the bulkhead behind the MDC's in the Block II). Sitting on the pad, with the apex and boost protective cover in place, these valves would not have unobstructed access to external atmosphere.

All times are CT (US)

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