Friday, January 28, 2011


27 JANUARY 1967
Wallace A. Johnson MBA
Commander Spaceship DEWAJ

I had been involved in writing the procedures for removing the double hatch required for extra vehicular activity. At first the NASA insisted on an outside hatch opening to the space environment. The inner hatch would have to be removed inwardly into the command module after decompression allowing the vacuum of space into the capsule. The NASA wanted this double hatch concept because it offered a sense of redundancy in case the outer hatch experienced some kind of pressure failure. They figured correctly that the internal pressure of the capsule would be a pressure against the inner hatch which would insure the hatch would not fail with a leak. They were correct of course but our engineers were of the opinion that the single hatch would offer sufficient safety to circumvent a decompression failure to the capsule. The NASA won the argument, but imagine this scenario. When deciding to have extra vehicular activity, the capsule had to be decompressed. Then the inner hatch had to go through the procedure of rotating latches and then bringing the hatch into the capsule and storing it under the center seat. This was the task that Ed White the center seat astronaut had on his hands when the fatal fire broke out on the pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Unlike the Russians who had an exotic mixture for their internal atmosphere, ours was 100% oxygen. When you supersaturate any matter with 100% oxygen, It makes little difference what the kindling point is, the result is a ferocious burning and consumption of the material. In short order, due to a spark in the wiring in one of the lower compartment areas, a fire broke out. It was followed by a fast build up of pressure internally that make it impossible for Dave White to break the inner hatch from its seals. In fact, the internal pressure built up so rapidly that it actually ruptured the capsule. The command module had turned into a pressure cooker. It happened so fast, nothing could be done, with disastrous consequences. I and two other test pilots worked round the clock simulating the procedure and capturing it all on film. We were trying to determine what the time-line was to get out of the restraining harness, decompress the capsule, and retrieve the inner hatch. I am in personal possession of the 16MM film given me by North American Aviatin on my leaving the company. It is only one of many mementos I have which bring back both sad and happy memories. Ultimately, our engineers won the battle about the single hatch and I was given the responsibility of writing the actual words ;ut on a stick on placard which were ultimately put on the inside of the outer hatch on how to open it in preparation for extra vehicular activity. Talk about synchronicity. I served on the USS Hornet CV12 just before my retiring from the Navy. The Hornet is now here in Alameda, Ca. as a floating museum and believe it or not there is an Apollo capsule on board that was actually picked up by the Hornet. It's a small world, and we never know at what moment we are doing something that we think is mundane and of no consequence. How wrong we are. Every moment is precious and every second of our lives is of paramount importance. Nothing happens by chance. Don't ask me to explain it, but I believe that to be true. There is no explanation for those things metaphysical and I am not about to try and explain them. I merely accept it as a cosmological law.

Wallace Johnson MBA MCEC
Apollo Project Test Pilot
Commander Spaceship DEWAJ



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