Press Release

Fifty Years On, Apollo 1 Tragedy Offers Vital Lessons

By SpaceRef Editor
February 3, 2017
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Space historian Andrew Chaikin will look back at the Apollo 1 disaster in a talk 2 p.m. Feb. 7 at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Part of Langley’s colloquium series, Chaikin’s presentation will be held in the Pearl Young Theater.

Chaikin will be available to answer questions from the media during a news briefing at 1:15 p.m. that day. Media who wish to do so should contact Michael Finneran at 757-864-6110, or by email at [email protected], by noon on the day of the talk for credentials and entry to Langley.

That same evening at 7:30, Newcomb will present a similar program for the general public at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. This Sigma Series event is free and no reservations are required.

On Jan. 27, 1967, NASA experienced an earth-shaking spaceflight tragedy. The Apollo 1 fire, which took the lives of three astronauts during a practice countdown, represented a shocking blow to the nation’s young space program.

The investigation into the accident revealed that the fire’s technical causes were clear: The Apollo 1 command module had been filled with high-pressure, pure-oxygen at the time of the test.

But what about the fire’s root causes?

Chaikin, author of many books and articles on space exploration including “A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts,” will describe the conditions that led to the deaths. He contends that the fire stemmed not as much from technical failures as from flawed modes of thinking by NASA managers, including a stunning failure to explore and understand flammability issues.

Chaikin promises to explain why, 50 years later, the lessons of the Apollo fire are still relevant and essential to NASA’s plans to explore the solar system.

Writer-director James Cameron, whose movies include “Avatar,” “Titanic” and “Aliens of the Deep,” has called Chaikin “our best historian of the space age.” Since 2011, he has been researching, writing and teaching for NASA on principles of success in spaceflight.

For more information about NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series lectures visit

SpaceRef staff editor.