Apollo I was a complicated spacecraft with thousands of systems that needed to function in harmony. It wasn't happening.
With thousands of systems came thousands of faults. By the start of 1967 there had been twenty thousand failures of one sort or another.
The first pre launch test was set for 27th January. The three astronauts, Grissom, White and Chaffee were suited up and would run through all the procedures in a dress rehearsal for the launch.
The astronauts were sealed in Apollo I and the capsule was pumped full of pure oxygen prior to countdown.
Gliches started appearing and the communications system started to unwind. Grissom, White and Chaffee were running out of patience. Grissom snapped, "If I can't talk with you only five miles away, how can we talk to you from the moon?"
Back in mission control engineers scanned monitors looking for the problems. Suddenly all the dials and gauges went crazy. A voice shouted "fire". It was the voice of one of the astronauts. The controllers looked at the screen that should be showing the interior of the Apollo capsule, all they could see was a fireball. Gus Grissom's voice came over the comms, "I've got a fire in the cockpit". There were more shouts , a scream and then silence. The interior of Apollo I had become a blowtorch and in eight seconds Grissom, White and Chaffee were dead. Everybody's worst nightmare had just become a reality.
The Apollo program had become a mess. Complacency and incompetance was abound and in the wake of the Apollo I disaster a drive to improve things wholesale saw a lot of heads roll. With the Vietnam war and civil rights concerning the public, people were asking if the space program was worth it.
The Apollo program was temporarily shut down. The investigation into the fire condemned NASA for its lack of concern for safety and shoddy workmanship.
If the space program was to continue a new Apollo would have to be built and it would have to be as safe as they could make it. A new determination ran through the Apollo project.
It was a tragedy that the fire happened but without it and the massive shake up that followed, Apollo may not have reached the moon.