Astronauts screamed ‘we’re burning up’ as they became trapped in fiery explosion

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The 1960s were a decade immersed in the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union.

As part of NASA's plan to be the first to land a man on the moon, they developed the Apollo programme.

Apollo 1 – initially designated AS-204 – was due to launch on February 21, 1967, as the first low Earth orbital test of the Apollo command and service module.

The mission never took place, however, as less than a month earlier, on January 27, a fire engulfed the cabin and burnt all three members alive.

Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee all lost their lives that day, with the words, "we're burning up", being the last thing they said.

The trio were sealed inside a spacecraft preparing for a simulated lift-off to practice what would happen during their real mission.

The astronauts entered the spacecraft at 1pm on that fateful day, but around five-and-a-half hours later, the routine test took a dark turn.

Just after 6:30pm, engineers in mission control saw an increase in oxygen flow and pressure inside the cabin, which was accompanied by a garbled transmission that sounded like “fire.”

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A split second later, fire "that originated from inside the cabin" penetrated to the outside of the spacecraft and surrounded the moonship in an instant.

The transmission was unclear, but the panic was obvious as the astronaut is believed to have shouted “we’ve got a bad fire – let’s get out. We’re burning up."

The transmission lasted five seconds and ended with a harrowing cry of pain.

Engineers tried to get the hatch open but couldn’t, with the men in mission control watching helplessly as the scene played out on the live video feed.

Emergency crews had the Apollo doors opened in five minutes but were confronted with intense heat and dense smoke.

The three astronauts had “apparently died instantly.”

Following the tragic accident, an investigation was set up to figure out what led to these disastrous events.

The review board determined that a wire over the piping from the urine collection system had arced.

The fire started below the crew’s feet, so from their positions on their couches facing upwards, they wouldn’t have seen it in time to react.

Everything in the cabin had been soaking in pure oxygen for hours and flammable material near the wire caught fire immediately.

From there, it took ten seconds for the spacecraft to fill with flames.

Once the crew's oxygen hoses were severed, they began breathing in toxic gases, with all three of them dying in less than a minute and their official cause of death being asphyxiation from smoke inhalation.

  • Space
  • Nasa
  • Fire

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