The Greatest Leap, part 1: How the Apollo fire propelled NASA to the Moon
“The conquest of space is worth the risk of life,” said Gus Grissom.
Seated in Mission Control, Chris Kraft neared the end of a tedious Friday afternoon as he monitored a seemingly interminable ground test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft. It was January 1967, and communications between frustrated astronauts inside the capsule on its Florida launch pad and the test conductors in Houston sputtered periodically through his headset. His mind drifted.
Sudden shouts snapped him to attention. In frantic calls coming from the Apollo cockpit, fear had replaced frustration. Amid the cacophony, Kraft heard the Apollo program’s most capable astronaut, Gus Grissom, exclaim a single word.
Noise blared for a few more seconds—then stopped completely.
An awful silence pervaded mission control. Engineers—pale, rigid, and silent—contemplated the worst. Kraft wondered if three of his friends had just died on his watch.
“All parts should go together without forcing. You must remember that the parts you are reassembling were disassembled by you. Therefore, if you can’t get them together again, there must be a reason. By all means, do not use a hammer.” —IBM Manual, 1925