04 September 2009

I was there

Now, so far we have had claims by Jarrah, and rebuttals by myself. One thing that has been missing is the words of someone who was actually there.

We can now change that.

I was lucky enough to be able to contact Mr Stephen Clemmons, one of the Pad 34 technicians who was there on Level 8 that fateful night. With his permission, I can quote some portions of a book he has written about his experiences that night.

Listen to the words of someone who was there:


There is a book called "Apollo, The Race to the Moon", by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Simon and Schuster, copyrighted in 1989 that is the most accurate of all the accounts. I have read all the books that were published by the Astronauts and find them sadly lacking in facts about the fire, some even went so far as to make up a story because most of them had a problem.

None of the men on Apollo 1 fire that night would talk, has ever allowed an interview or discussed the fire in any detail. I am the first, as far as I know that has ever spoken in print about that night. And that was only twenty years after the fire, because I felt that the real story has never been accurately portrayed.


Scott [Grissom] came up with a theory that someone in NASA or North American Aviation was out to get his Dad to keep him from being the first to land on the moon. They were supposed to have sabatoged the Spacecraft which resulted in the fire that killed the three Astronauts. He was supposed to have found the area and the item that was sabatoged, a switch.

He sent me a long supposition statement to be verified to back up his claims, but I could not go along with it because it didn't fit the actual circumstances or time line of what they found shortly after the fire, or what I remembered happened that night.


The big question "Did Gus blow the hatch" has never been addressed from the stand point of NASA's failure to adequately provide a safe and reliable flight system.

To build such a dangerous item with no fail safe atributes is typical of the attitude of NASA at the time and has continued throughout the history of NASA through Challenger and Colombia. Their one fault is the lack of safety oversight which was just recently pointed out during the Colombia Accident Investigation.

We now know that the system on Mercury had a flaw and if it hadn't happened with Gus, it would have happened sooner or later, and later would have been disastrous. Suppose it had occurred when John Glenn or Wally Shirra were out in space. It would have been the end of the Space program as we know it.

I know that there was a major design change on the emergency hatch system before the flight of John Glenn. I talked to one of the McDonnell Douglas engineers on Mercury and he admitted that it was a defective design. A new fail safe system was incorporated that would only fire when the Astronaut really meant for it to happen.

If there's someone out there that took part in this modification at McDonnell Douglas, join in.

NASA will never admit it. NASA has always had a problem accepting responsibility. Since Gus was the Pilot, it was easy to blame him, letting NASA off the hook. They tried to blame the Apollo 1 fire on the contractor,the Apollo 13 explosion on a switch in a fuel cell, the contractor's fault, Challenger was blamed on a faulty "o" ring and Colombia on faulty foam coming off, again saying that the contractors were at fault.

Only after a long and enlightening investigation did they admit that yes, they were wrong.


... I can only speak for Apollo 1. The crews didn't change. There was a total of 44 technicians and supervisors on the spacecraft crew and we worked each craft in turn, some changing according to manpower requirements, and some left on their own initive because of changing views. Many were discouraged with the setup and tired of the flip flops within NASA and usually went on to other things, but not because of the accidents. In fact N.A.A. wanted the crews to stay together to create a cohesive work force. We stayed together through Apollo 13 when the workforce was cut in half due to the accident.

Many came back when the flight schedule was resumed but I didn't because I was involved in other things. Frankly I was fed up with what had happened within NASA. Nothing changed, just the faces as the space program went on to have two more fatal accidents.


Without the proper protective equipment suitable for high temperatures, which was not available and the facts that the suit melted, including the oxygen hoses, and the fire lasted for over four minutes giving off toxic fumes similar to phosgene from the teflon pads used throughout the spacecraft, there is no way that anyone could have survived.

The main cause was a something highly inflammable in the area below Grissom's couch.

Two items of concern was the highly inflammable material, Velcro. Not the velcro itself but the material used to attach it to the walls. A highly inflammable adhesive.

Flight rules was violated because the rubber mats, plainly stenciled "Not for Oxygen Use" was placed on the floor above the equipment bay.

Another thing, there was no method of detecting grease or contaminants prior to the Capsule going to internal pressure. There was a source of grease just outside the capsule near the entrance to the whiteroom swing arm.

Any type of hydrocarbon will form an explosive mixture, shock sensitive after several hours in a 100 percent oxygen atmosphere and will explode into a million parts when jostled or struck.

In an instant, it will cover an area with burning particles. In several private tests conducted using a small amount of grease, this was verified.

NASA never considered this.

There are several other things that happened that never made it into the report and I'll cover them later.


When I first went out to Pad 34 as an Electrical Inspector, I was appalled at the reckless way that propellant lines was treated. Lines were opened, washed off with alcohol and reconnected, electrical panels and cables disturbed with no inspection coverage, at least not what I was used to. On the DoD side, 100 percent inspection was normal. But on the NASA side, only survielance inspection was required and a running account was documented by Engineering on a Test Prep Sheet, which was the only inspection document required. Incidently design changes were also installed on TPS with out design approval. There was an attitude at Kennedy of "do everything, even if it's wrong" to get us to the moon. It was called "Moon Fever".

The answer when we asked questions about a critical item or procedure that really didn't meet specs, was if you don't like the way we're doing this, tell it to Gus.

Now I had met Gus and Wally in a Bar in Cocoa Beach several months before, not really met him but was in the small crowd that had gathered around to celebrate something. I doubt if he was even conscious of us, at least by name. But I could tell that he was not someone that would stand to have his orders questioned.

Since he was the "Chief [astronaut] Engineer" for NASA, his word was law. As far as those of us on Apollo 1, Gus was NASA and as I was told when I said something about the shortcuts we were taking, I was told that Gus said it was to be done that way to save precious time that we didn't have, cause we had to fly to the moon and if I had a problem with it, I would have to go and explain it to him.

In the months before the ill fated Spacecraft arrived at Kennedy, several important meeting was held at Downy about flammable materials in the spacecraft, mainly velcro and rashel netting and the problem North American Engineers was having with a pure Oxygen Atmosphere during checkout on the ground. They had told NASA that the interior of the spacecraft under normal pressure, a pound over atmospheric created a time bomb. NASA Engineers poo pooed the ideas, saying they didn't have a problem with the pure oxygen system since they had used it on Mercury and Gemini.

They even published a flammable material procedure that would keep most of the items out of the spacecraft.

This list was totally ignored by NASA. Everyone knew that velcro was highly explosive because of the volatile adhesive used. We ran tests in crew systems lab on the material and 12" burned up in less that one second in normal air. There are other unfavorable attributes of this material that came into play during the fire. The adhesive also gave off a highly inflamable gas that adhered to the surface material.

North American Aviation had designed a quick opening hatch (one piece) that opened in three seconds. Gus said he didn't want that since there would be no need for such a hatch in space as no one was going to be going outside and since there were no fuels loaded until launch day, there was no need. I think he was worried that maybe the hatch might blow off on landing like the one on his first spacecraft.

North American even offered to furnish it free but they would have nothing to do with it.

Spacecraft 012 was a block one vehicle and should have never been flown with men aboard. It would probably work but it was the first model and had plenty of built in bugs that kept coming out of the woodwork.

During it manufacture and testing, there were over 1800 critical discrepancies written, which took time to investigate and find fixes, but NASA was adamant that the schedule would not slip so many of them fell by the wayside. Instead of waiting for the first Block II (Much superior) which was still in the pipeline, and the fact that the Astronauts wanted to fly, block one would have to do.

Tests were being performed both at Downy (CA) and KSC with out proper analysis, many were run end on end, and the results were way below specs but no one wanted to say "Hold it NASA, we need time to fix these problems", mainly because they didn't want to face Gus's wrath. It was fairly well known at Kennedy that Gus was going to be the first man to fly Apollo and he wasn't going to allow anything to get in his way.

Most of you probably think that I have it in for Gus, but to be honest, he was one of the sharpest Engineers in the Astronaut Corps. He probably knew more about the Spacecraft than any other single individual in the space program. and as for guts, he had lots of that. Anyone that will ride a small rocket in 1960 had to be either crazy or know something we didn't know.

In my book, he was a real hero. He wanted something real bad, wanting to eventually be the first to land on the moon. That was his ambition. The only problem he had was communicating with those who was building the Rocket booster and Spacecraft.

NASA was mainly at fault, putting more responsibility on him than they should have.

NASA should have created a flight safety board made up of Contractors, NASA and their consultants that would approve any change to the Spacecraft equipment and stowable items. This would have eliminated many of the nuisance discrepancies that was generated.

During the investigation, they found over 800 modifications that had not been authorized by design engineering. These changes had to come from somewhere.

Later during the investigation of the Challenger and Colombia, they found out that NASA had not learned their lesson from Apollo 1 or Apollo 13.

Now back to the story.

I was transferred to the Spacecraft Ground Crew shortly before Apollo 1 Arrived at Kennedy. It was a beautiful ship, seemed to be well put together. During the following months, we put it through its paces in the Altitude Chamber and in the checkout bay. There were a lot of small things that kept coming up, particular in the communication systems.

Some of these problems were now building up to a point that someone in NASA should have called a short breather to really find out where we stood. but we all had Moon Fever and couldn't stop.

During the days that were spent checking out the Spacecraft at Kennedy, we were constantly being stopped because of VIP's (congressman / politicians), their aides and secretaries that were allowed to get inside the spacecraft for tours. It was even better when Astronauts would come with them to pose for pictures. This also included woman friends of the Astronauts that usually showed up at night on the weekends that the Astronauts were in town. These VIP's were more important than the tests being performed.

Because of the tight schedule and the limited working space inside the craft, engineers and technicians often had disputes as to whose work was more important and priorities went by the wayside. There were several fights that had to be broken up.

Now this was detrimental to the spacecraft because it was not built for this kind of activities.

The lower equipment and floor directly under the seats was wide open with no protective covers, exposing miles and miles of wire, aluminum tubing, valves and electrical devices.

Protective covers was not needed in space so there were no provisions made.

The excuse was, "covers were not needed, and would add weight to the spacecraft". Now I'm not saying that Gus had anything to do with this decision, but it was dictated by NASA Engineering and Planners, not North American Aviation. (The block one vehicles was designed for automated radio controls, a large black box that sat on the main floor.)

NASA Spacecraft Engineers didn't realize the the booster engineers at Marshall on Saturn 1 and Saturn V launch vehicle had a fifteen percent safety factor on launch weight built into the design. This would have allowed several thousand pounds more on the spacecraft if needed.

We were being held to grams.

This indicates that yes, we needed to conserve weight, but not to the point that it would affect safety. That's why I said earlier that the Block 1 vehicles was not designed for manned space travel.

Incidentally, North American wanted to install covers on the lower equipment bay floors to protect these items but NASA (Gus) said they didn't have time to design these covers and besides it was not needed.

For ground operations, they could use a four inch thick rubber mat to protect this area. There were constant inspections to find nicked wires, loose bits of trash and materials that seemed to fall between the wires. All the workers that entered the craft had to wear special clothing and nylon bunny boots, but the VIPs only had to remove their shoes and don a shop coat.

North American had no control over these visitors.

During the investigation after the fire, NASA tried to say that a spark caused by the lower Door on the Environmental Control Unit rubbing a wire started the fire. No one asked why these wires were exposed, who decreed it and and why there was a rubber mat installed because it would have placed the blame squarely on NASA and their Engineers.

They also didn't bother to mention the traffic inside the spacecraft from VIP's.

There was only so much that North American could do under these circumstances. NASA was running the show and even if N.A.A. wanted to make the spacecraft safer, they had to fight NASA and their chief engineer.


I for one would like to see an independent Panel of experts with no axe to grind examine the evidence and issue a final ruling.

I think NASA issued a squeaky clean report that had so much massaging from the public relations group that it couldn't be believed.

They had to publish finding that took everyone off the hook so they not would look like the incompetents they were.


...there were no fire suppression systems on the Spacecraft. A system such as Halon or carbon dioxide was considered too dangerous to the crew because of the small amount of space and the fact they couldn't immediately exit the craft. Other reasons would include a revamping of the spacecraft to accomodate such a system and NASA didn't think it was needed.


There were earlier plans on putting a small extinguisher in S/C 012 but it never materialized. Some thought it would be just added weight. I saw a similar extinguisher when I worked in Crew Systms Laboratory and was told that we wouldn't be loading it. An extinguisher was added for Apollo 7 and subsequent flights.


As to what Scott [Grissom] is trying to do on his documentary, I feel he is trying to create fact from fiction. I have examined his theory and nothing jibes with what we know. I think that the men on the investigating team looked at everything they had and published what they found.

It may not be what we want to hear, as all of us have our opinions, but the theory that someone within NASA or North America sabotaged the Spacecraft to kill his dad goes beyond the stretch of imagination. There were too many individuals involved to have a clear cut plan to do something like that.
[My Bolding]

One of the questions he asked was. Who was on the spacecraft that night that wasn't there for Apollo 7? He then said, if we can find that person, we have the murder.

Now how do you answer a question like that?

I have patiently explained each of his theories, basing my answers on what was published in the investigation reports and what I think happened that night, what was found and I can find no basis for sabatoge.

As I said "It was an accident pure and simple," caused by the oversight of flight rules and procedures by both North American and NASA. Yes, there were mistakes made but in the rush to get to the moon, something called "moon fever", we plainly "screwed the pooch."

Gus demanded so much as Chief Engineer for NASA in charge of the Spacecraft, everyone was in the hurry to get things done, scared of his wrath, and launch within that time frame. No one wanted to oppose him. As I said earlier in one of post, Gus was NASA as far as we were concerned. Gus can't be blamed because he was only doing what he thought was necessary to keep the program on fast track.

Even so, most everyone respected him for his knowledge and drive and I don't think there was anyone in NASA or North America that wanted him dead, or face the possibility of ending the program.

So no, I didn't sign his petition because I don't know what it would accomplish. It certainly won't bring his dad back and will open old sores that are best left healed.


As can be seen, Mr Clemmons is not a "NASA Apologist"; he squarely lays the blame for the fire on NASA. Note, though, that he never claims that the fire was some type of deliberate act.

So: who would you believe? Someone who was there that night, or a young YouTuber who has zero qualifications in any related field?

Lastly, I asked Mr Clemmons to examine Jarrah's claims and give an opinion on their validity. His reply?

"Guys like this idiot Jarrah White are a dime-a-dozen and no matter what we say, they are not going to change their mind."

'Nuff said.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the work you are doing in this blog. Jarrah White is a dime-a-dozen idiot. He has no credentials in any field, yet he purveys the sense that he is an expert in the fields of orbital mechanics, physics, chemistry, mathematics, photographic analysis, health physics and geology. He is the master of spin, cherry picking, and mine quoting. He plays up to the camera with mock superiority and an air of grandeur over others that quite frankly makes me feel ill.

    White, Kaysing, Rene, Sibrel et al share one thing in common; each are anti-establishment crusaders with over inflated egos. Each think they have a greater mind than all previous humans that have set foot on this planet.

    Keep it up.

    TKW, United Kingdom.