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This Day in History: Apollo 1 Bursts into Flames, Killing 3 American Astronauts

All three American astronauts on board died in the fire: Lt. Col. Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Lt. Col. Edward White II and Roger B. Chaffee

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In this undated photo made available by NASA, (L-R), veteran astronaut Virgil Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White and rookie Roger Chaffee, stand for a photograph in Cape Kennedy, Florida, today Cape Canaveral. VOA

US, Jan 27, 2017: Fifty years ago today, January 27, 1967, tragedy struck NASA’s proposed first manned flight of the Apollo capsule when a fire engulfed the craft during a routine test on the launchpad.

All three American astronauts on board died in the fire: Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Lt. Col. Edward White II and Roger B. Chaffee.

The tragedy stunned the nation, and it temporarily stalled NASA’s push to meet then-president John F. Kennedy’s deadline to reach the lunar surface by the end of the decade

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A NASA probe and congressional hearings concluded previously unidentified fire hazards existed inside the capsule, and the subsequent decision to pressurize it entirely with oxygen created an extremely combustible environment. The hatch opened inward, which made it difficult for the crew to open it and escape.

After the deadly accident, hundreds of changes to the capsule were made, and NASA instituted myriad safety procedures. The redesigned capsules used a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, reducing the fire risk. A new hatch was designed that could be opened in just five seconds.

Only 21 months later, NASA sent humans back into space aboard Apollo 7. And less than a year after that, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

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To mark the 50th anniversary, NASA is holding a ceremony, which will be broadcast live on NASA television. (VOA)

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Trump Increases NASA Spending by $1.6 Billion With Goal of Returning to Moon

"I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!"

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talks to employees about the agency's progress toward sending astronauts to the moon and on to Mars during a televised event, Monday, March 11, 2019. VOA

The Trump administration asked Congress on Monday to increase NASA spending next year by an extra $1.6 billion to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA’s timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The proposed increase would bring NASA’s total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to $22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development for a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by NASA.

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“I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”, says Trump. Pixabay

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump tweeted late on Monday. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!” NASA had previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by the year 2028, after first putting a “Gateway” station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

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The newly accelerated goal – an endeavor likely to cost tens of billions of dollars – comes as NASA has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from U.S. soil for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The U.S. Apollo program, NASA’s forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earth’s natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon from 1969 to 1972. So far, only two other nations have conducted controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the former Soviet Union and China. But those were with unmanned robot vehicles. (VOA)