Three astronauts may have been murdered when they were deliberately incinerated inside their Apollo 1 space capsule at the Kennedy Space Center, and several other spacemen and civilians could have died as part of the cover-up.
Incredibly, Lt. Col. Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom, commander of the three-man team, had warned he was likely to be murdered, and death threats against him led to his assignment to a safe house with Secret Service agents to protect him.
A former pilot during the Korean War with 100 combat missions under his belt and a test pilot after that, Grissom was an individual with tremendous faith in himself. He knew how to do a job to perfection and he demanded the same kind of performance from others.
But he wasn’t seeing that kind of perfection from Apollo contractors, and he was kicking up a public fuss about such matters as quality and safety. He went as far one time as hanging a large lemon on the Apollo space vehicle in front of the press to get his message across. Upsetting apple carts wasn’t making him a popular man among some of the contractors or apparently with some elements in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Grissom’s wife later revealed that he told her shortly before his death: “If there’s ever a serious accident in the space program, it’s likely to be me.”
The veteran astronaut’s gloomy presentiment was realized on January 27, 1967, when an electric spark set off a blaze and explosion in the pure oxygen environment of the capsule. His Apollo 1 teammates Edward H. White, the first American to do a spacewalk, and rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee died with him.
Immediately after the tragedy NASA convened the Apollo 204 Accident Review Board to investigate. The panel blamed multiple design and construction flaws. Committees in both houses of Congress also studied the causes of the fire and explosion.
Amazingly, after Thomas Baron, a launch pad inspector, laced into NASA’s response to the tragedy and declared that the astronauts attempted to flee the capsule earlier than previously stated, he was fired. Baron had a reputation for writing negative reports about a NASA contractor, and soon after his troubling testimony before the 204 panel, he, his wife and his step-daughter were killed when their car was struck by a train. Authorities ruled the deaths to be the result of suicide.
Perhaps the most disturbing development in recent years tied to the module explosion occurred when the son of the mission commander told the press that he and other members of his family believed Gus Grissom and his teammates were murdered.
Not an accident
In a shocking interview in the February 19, 1999, issue of Star magazine, Scott Grissom told reporter Steve Herz his father’s death was not an accident — he was murdered. A commercial pilot, the younger Grissom said he had recently been allowed to inspect the charred capsule his father died in and uncovered evidence that indicated it was sabotaged to deliberately create a spark that ignited a fireball
The pilot’s mother, Betty, told the Star she believed her son had discovered evidence that would prove NASA knew from the beginning what really happened but covered it up to protect funding for its programs.
After three decades of silence, Clark MacDonald, who was a McDonnell Douglas Corp. engineer when he was hired by NASA to investigate the explosion and fire, added his corroboration for the article.
MacDonald said he determined an electrical short caused by a changeover to electrical power in the space capsule caused the explosion. But his report and interview tapes were destroyed by NASA, he said.