After the fire: a long-lost transcript from the Apollo 1 fire investigation
by Dwayne A. Day
|Other researchers may want to look into the circumstances of Baron’s death, but his testimony was never truly lost.|
In 1999, in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, radio station WAMU in Washington, DC, aired a program about the role of Washington politics in the lunar landing. “Washington Goes to the Moon” was written and produced by Richard Paul and featured interviews with a number of key figures in the story. Paul had decided that the Apollo 1 fire and the subsequent investigations into its cause would be a key focus of the program. In the course of researching the fire, he stumbled upon a document that many believed was long-lost: a transcript of an interview with Thomas Baron, who alleged that there were numerous improper actions taken by his employer, North American Aviation, which was building the spacecraft.
Paul, the author of We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program, did not have an audio recording of the 1967 interview with Baron, so he had an actor read some portions of the interview. Paul later turned transcripts of the interviews over to NASA as historical documents, along with this congressional transcript. Although this interview is long, it is being reprinted here because of the unique insight it presents into one of the darkest times of the American space program. The Apollo 1 fire has never received the level of historical attention that the later Challenger and Columbia accidents did and remains ripe for a dedicated book about both the accident and how it impacted the Apollo program and American society. Other researchers may want to look into the circumstances of Baron’s death, but his testimony was never truly lost.
Baron was interviewed by Congressman Olin Teague, who was then chair of the House Manned Spaceflight Committee, along with members of Congress James G. Fulton, Edward Gurney, Ken Hechler, John Wydler, and Emilio Daddario.
Technicians and officials inspect the aluminum covered Apollo 1 spacecraft on February 17, 1967, after it was lowered from its booster at pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. (credit: Jim Kerlin/Pool photo via AP)
INVESTIGATION INTO APOLLO 204 ACCIDENT
STATEMENT OF THOMAS RONALD BARON
Mr. TEAGUE. Will you give your full name and your address?
Mr. BARON. Thomas Ronald Baron, 2856 Folsom Road, Mims, Fla.
Mr. TEAGUE: Take just a few minutes and tell us something about your background.
Mr. BARON. As far as my background goes, I have been in research the last 12 years. Four years of it in the Air Research Proving Ground in Eglin Field, Fla., mostly in the research and development of subsystems of all the aircraft that we had up there that we had up there which I think was mostly the US Air Force inventory. I have been in private business for some time in the past years in different trades, locksmithing work, approximately three years out of the last ten. I have been in high altitude research probes for Device Development Corp. out of Massachusetts for approximately 4 months in 1963. This took place also in Eglin Field. I have been in the manufacturing of environmental test chambers primarily for use by NASA and the US Navy and a little over two years on the North American Hound Dog program at Eglin Field as a calibration technician, console operator, and with the Apollo program since September 1965.
Mr. TEAGUE. What is your educational background?
Mr. BARON. Only high school.
Mr. TEAGUE. Would you tell us where you were in the North American organization; just where did you fit, for example, with the safety Plan for North American?
Mr. BARON. I don’t follow you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. TEAGUE. Just what was your job with North American?
Mr. BARON. My task called out that I was a missile preflight inspector. My own particular tasks were quite varied, like many of the other inspectors. We were used quite often in other areas that we weren’t familiar with because there was nobody else there to do the job and we were shifted around. I worked on the manned module, on the service module, on the water-glycol system for ground support. I have worked in component testing, of the environmental control system in the life support building. I have been over at the receiving section, warehouse section, inspecting parts coming in from vendors and going out to spacecraft and working sites. I have worked in all the areas of the pads, pad 16, pad 34—quite a roundabout area.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Baron, I have read your first report. I believe it was the 50-odd page report. I have listened to about 2.5 hours of taped interviews of yours. One of the statements you made was that noncertified items were placed in the spacecraft. The Review Board found that noncertified equipment items were installed in the command module at the time of test. It was testified in Washington that a number of these items were identified and known and were to be taken out before flight. Of the items that you spoke of, do you know whether these were the same items that would have been taken out before flight?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. I don’t see how they could be actually taken out. Some of them were in the epoxy category and paint category and tape category. Possibly the tape could be removed. We use some tape the Command Module which could be removed. We use some tape for identification purposes in the Command Module which could be removed during flight.
Mr. TEAGUE. Do you think the items you are speaking of are items which would have stayed in during flight if the capsule had flown?
Mr. Baron. Yes.
Mr. TEAGUE. You stated that North American had not lived up to their contractual obligations to the Government. Is that correct?
Mr. BARON. I don’t feel that they did; no, sir.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Baron, did you ever see their contract?
Mr. BARON. No, sir; I have never seen it.
Mr. TEAGUE. Will you tell us what you meant by that, what you had in mind?
Mr. BARON. Well, there are certain things that a contractor has to comply with in my past experience especially working with the Allentown Scientific Associates in Allentown, Pa. I was very familiar with the Government contracts, the basis of a lot of Government contracts as far as safety is concerned for personnel and working conditions and things of this nature. This is primarily what I was talking about.
Mr. TEAGUE. You were talking about safety and things that you have in your report?
Mr. BARON. Yes. I believe most of the Government contracts read out as to safety pretty much the same.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Baron, either in your tape or in your report, I don’t remember which, you said you met a man in a grocery store who worked on the pad and who knew exactly what caused the fire and he said others did.
Mr. BARON. This is what he said to me; yes, indeed.
Mr. TEAGUE. Who was that man?
Mr. BARON. Are you going to press me for that name?
Mr. TEAGUE. Yes. We want to ask him about it.
Mr. BARON. Very good. His name is Al Holmburg.
Mr. TEAGUE. Who is he, do you know?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir. He is a spacecraft electronics technician.
Mr. TEAGUE. That is a rather serious statement. We would like to ask him that question.
Mr. BARON Yes, sir, I realize it is a very serious statement.
Mr. TEAGUE. Do you have any questions?
Mr. GURNEY. Did you find out who the man worked for? Who did you say be was?
Mr. BARON. Who his boss is, Mr. Gurney, I don’t know. He is a spacecraft electronics technician.
Mr. GURNEY. Does he work here?
Mr. BARON. Yes, on this particular command module.
Mr. GURNEY. Does he work for the Government or a contractor?
Mr. BARON. North American Aviation.
Mr. FULTON. When and where did be make the statement?
Mr. BARON. He made the statement to me February 2 at a drugstore actually, in Titusville, Fla.
Mr. FULTON. Do you know the name of the drugstore?
Mr. BARON. Yes, Sir. Cutler’s Drugstore.
Mr. FULTON. Who was there?
Mr. BARON. No one was there—well, there were other customers in the area, but no one that we knew.
Mr. FULTON. Was this a casual meeting?
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. FULTON. You had known him before?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir.
Mr. FULTON. Were you there for the purpose of talking this over?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. It was an unintentional meeting.
Mr. TEAGUE. He didn’t tell you what he had in mind?
Mr. BARON. No, sir.
Mr. HECHLER. Is this the same man who told you that the astronauts smelled smoke, noticed smoke before the fire, and were talking about it 10 or 12 minutes before the fire?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir, the same man gave me this information.
Mr. HECHLER. Did the same man give you the information that the astronauts tried for five minutes to get out of the capsule?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir, be did.
Mr. HECHLER. Thank you.
Mr. WYDLER. I know what you are doing is a very difficult thing and to try to put it in the best perspective we have, as Members of Congress, could you give us what you consider the most serious of your charges and summarize those for us? I realize that this may not be possible. If so, explain and I will understand. I know you have made many specific points and so forth. I wonder if you could tell us from your own point of view what you think the most serious charges are and why. I would appreciate that if you could.
Mr. BARON. Are you asking me what the actual source of all our trouble is?
Mr. WYDLER. Well, if you want to express that, yes.
Mr. BARON. I don’t know if that is exactly what you are asking.
Mr. WYDLER. I am really giving you a chance to tell us what you think. This is what I am offering to you. You can take the question the way you want. I am not trying to limit you in any particular way.
Mr. BARON. Very well. It is quite varied as to our problems are. As most people have said and realized, it is so extensive and covers so many areas it is difficult to believe that some of them even existed. I would say basically that we have had problems, extensive problems in safety, in cleaning materials, in items getting in the spacecraft that weren’t supposed to be there, the morale of the people, the pressures put on the people by management are the things that really indicate that we don’t have the proper management that we should have in this program.
Mr. WYDLER. That is all well and good and those are a conclusion. I am sure you realize people disagree about thing of that nature, and you can make an argument for and against it.
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. WYDLER. And I am sure you realize how people can go back and forth on that.
Mr. BARON. Sure.
Mr. WYDLER. Tell me what you consider to be the most serious deficiencies you can point to as a matter of fact and tell me what they are from your point of view.
Mr. BARON. This would be going into detail on some points?
Mr. WYDLER. Pick out what you would consider to be the Most Significant of those points.
Mr. BARON. I would have to go back and read my manuscript again, it is quite long. I would say probably that the—I don’t know if I am answering your question again, I don’t even entirely understand it. Probably the lack of communication between almost everyone concerned with this project and the sectionalism that exists in this particular project is probably our main problem. By this I mean if I were to write a letter about a particular instance or a fire or something like this or something that we have had and try to get it up through channels, it would be stopped along the way. This has occurred. Not only to me, it has occurred to other individuals in quality control, also. The communication going up is very, very poor and the communication coming down is very, very poor.
Mr. WYDLER. Do you have some specific illustrations of that fact which you consider the most significant illustrations of that?
Mr. BARON. I don’t believe that there is any most significant illustration of it, because there are too many of them and you couldn’t possibly pick one out of the others. If you want to pick out an instance on a particular problem that I have written about or covered, then I could possibly do that.
Mr. WYDLER. I am asking you to pick one out.
Mr. BARON. Okay, I am going to give one instance which goes into the communications problem literally during the escape operation, this is the self-contained apparatus that we have for working with the toxic fuels, the nitrogen tetroxide and nitrogen hydrazenes during the filling of our tanks, this is not in relation to spacecraft 012—I it is spacecraft 9. It was a general problem at that time. We did not have a good communication link with the people that were actually in control of us and our air pax during the entire operation. We had too many communications breaks, we couldn’t talk to them in case somebody got hurt. If a man got out of air we had to get him down ourselves and in most cases, we would be walking back to the escape trailer which is operated by another contractor, Bendix, before the truck would even get out to assist us in any way. This is primarily because we didn’t have any good headset communication between them or they were, not on the net and talking to somebody else.
Mr. WYDLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Fulton.
Mr. FULTON. Of course when you are testifying, you are giving your word. Naturally, the inquiry then results as to corroboration of your word so my first question is after the meeting with this Al Holmburg, has he contacted you or have you contacted him since, and if so, how, when. and where?
Mr. BARON. Yes; I have contacted him several times, on several occasions since this accident.
Mr. FULTON. In connection with this accident?
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. FULTON. Did he, on his own motion try to contact you after you made these statements either confirming or denying what you had said he had stated?
Mr. BARON. No, sir; he made no direct attempt ever to contact me.
Mr. FULTON. This committee, of course, wants a clear and fair examination of the facts. You have cited certain events that have occurred with other people involved. Do you have recommendations to this committee of a person or persons or a company or a supplier or a systems engineer that we should contact to corroborate what you? What corroboration can you give us that what you say is true? How shall we do that!
Mr. BARON. You mean aside from Mr. Holmburg?
Mr. FULTON. Yes.
Mr. BARON. Well.
Mr. FULTON. You have given other instances. We are listening to your words. The question is whether the committee should take them on their face value. We need to know who you recommend to us to corroborate what you say? Is it a company? individuals? engineers? systems engineers? Who is it? Pad operations people?
Mr. BARON. Well, in reference to Mr. Holmburg’s statement to me, I’d suggest that you talk to Mr. Holmburg.
Mr. FULTON. Oh, we clearly will do that. But you have clearly given other instances. The question is, how do we corroborate these instances on what you say? Who shall we get in touch with and put our investigators to check so that it corroborates your statements?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir; if you will give me the instances you have in mind, I will be more than happy to.
Mr. FULTON. All or any of them. Do you know of anybody that this committee has not called as a witness whom you could recommend we call to corroborate what you say?
Mr. WYDLER. Would the gentleman yield to me?
Mr. FULTON. I couldn’t on that. I would rather have him answer.
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir. I can give you a list of their names if I have a list of the North American personnel because some of the names I don’t recall.
Mr. TEAGUE. There are a number of names in your report.
Mr. BARON. May I pull my report out? I will be glad to read them.
Mr. FULTON. Is Robert Lucas one?
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. FULTON. Would you suggest we call him?
Mr. BARON. He would certainly have to corroborate what I said in relation to him.
Mr. FULTON. Who else?
Mr. BARON. A mechanic by the name of Donald Butcher could verify that particular item I am discussing there.
Mr. FULTON. Who else?
Mr. BARON. William Aimerson.
Mr. FULTON. You have a list here on the water-glycol operations and you have given us the names of ground support people, Mel Gill, Bill Aimerson, Chuck Levitt, Dennis Jolly, Bill de Jurnat, Sam Moody, Ed Wright of NASA, and Jerry Dahl of Air Research. What do you say about those people?
Mr. BARON. If you talk to either one, they will have to corroborate what I have said, because what I have said in the report is certainly true. They were there in most instances in all those cases, that I have written about.
Mr. FULTON. To whom did you report the statement by Mr. Holmburg? That was a serious statement, as you realized, regarding the cause of this accident. To whom did you make such a report and when did you do it?
Mr. BARON. I discussed it with a newspaperman, this particular report.
Mr. FULTON. Who was it?
Mr. BARON. Sanders Lamont of Today newspaper, or possibly Dick Younger, of Orlando Sentinel.
Mr. FULTON. You didn’t go to NASA and you didn’t come to Congress or the Review Board which had been appointed to investigate the accident directly?
Mr. BARON. I am trying to recall whether or not I discussed this with John Brooks, of NASA. In fact, I may have on one occasion, because I did discuss with him what Mr. Holmburg was discussing with me.
Mr. FULTON. What is his title?
Mr. BARON. He is a quality control regional investigator.
Mr. WYDLER. Would the gentleman yield to me for just an instant?
Mr. FULTON. I will be glad to.
Mr. WYDLER. As I understand the testimony that the committee received in Washington, the North American Aviation Co. which has reviewed your specific charges in great detail, obviously testified that you are about half right. That was their testimony, so we can assume from that you are probably at least half right. There is some basis, obviously, for the things you have said and charged. I think that is part of our record in Washington.
Mr. FULTON. May I comment on that? I make no assumptions as to whether he is right or wrong. I want the corroboration and the people who will support his testimony as well as the physical facts that I think we should go into. That is what I was calling to the witness’s attention, what must this committee do to corroborate what he said. I make no assumption to whether or not he is right or wrong in whole or in part.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Gurney.
Mr. GURNEY. Mr. Baron, you mentioned something about the morale factor in connection with the people who are working on the Apollo program or here in the spaceport in general. Let us amplify that a bit. How would you describe this morale?
Mr. BARON. The morale as of less than three weeks ago was very poor and I have never seen the morale since the time I have been with the company at what anyone would call a normal high point at all. In other words, you could possibly say it was a “blah” feeling among the people as far as the morale is concerned.
Mr. GURNEY. This is a serious matter. The morale of people working, whether it is good or bad, certainly reflects in the quality of their work. Be more specific. What do you mean by poor? In what way?
Mr. BARON. In two cases in regard to morale on spacecraft 9, and spacecraft 11, there has been or there were cases of people who were shifted to different shifts prior to the launch of these two separate vehicles. In the case of spacecraft 9, the people did not get the pay benefits which would normally happen if they were transferred to another shift. In the case of spacecraft 11, some of the people got these benefits of the people did not.
Mr. GURNEY. But again, going back to a morale question, it is a difficult thing to assess. You know in the Army, and most of us here, spent some time in the service one way or another, we often said that is a soldier wasn’t “bitching real loud” as we put it, there was something the matter with him. Actually this sort of thing goes on a good deal. There is morale, and morale. People do get upset and they complain. But I am saying, do you think that there was a really serious morale factor with people generally dissatisfied all over the place with their jobs and what they are doing?
Mr. BARON. I would say for the most part yes, and I would be more than happy to give you other names of people that you can talk to.
Mr. GURNEY. Who would they be?
Mr. BARON. Mr. Wade McCrary, who is no longer with us—these are North American people who have left us—Mr. Myron Cross, Mr. Al Miller, Mr. Jack Berger,—I think Mr. Berger is still with us; I don’t know for sure. Mr. Dick Menthorn—if I had a list in front of me, I really could reel them all off to you, but this is what I have on the top of my head right now.
Mr. GURNEY. Of those who have left, do you know where they have gone?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir.
Mr. GURNEY. Where?
Mr. BARON. Mr. Cross is working for Grumman. Mr. McCrary and Miller are working for Lockheed.
Mr. GURNEY. That is here?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir. In this area.
Mr. GURNEY. What would you say was the chief reason for this lack of morale, as you put it?
Mr. BARON. Well, I think basically personnel treatment and how some of them were treated and just in general as far as overtime was concerned; a case in point is two particular instances when I called in because I was not feeling well and actually not up to par for working, I called in two particular afternoons that I was going to stay home that particular day, because I wasn’t feeling well, and I almost was demanded to go to work, and that I would work—especially since I was the only one in that particular area that was working; this was in the receiving and inspection area.
Mr. GURNEY. The morale factor is connected only with the North American Corp. Are there others involved?
Mr. BARON. Not that I know of. It is primarily North American.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Gurney.
Mr. GURNEY. What about NASA people? Are they involved?
Mr. BARON. I have never really seen them in too bad of a morale picture at all. They are not contractor workers, they are government workers (laughter).
Mr. GURNEY. Why do you make this distinction? (Laughter).
Mr. BARON. Well for the most part, naturally NASA is supposed to be the controlling outfit in this organization and usually if a quality Control inspector—well, normally he is put on the spot in many cases as to whether he is going to buy something or what, and then NASA—the NASA man will turn around and argue the point and either go or not go with him. I would consider they are one notch higher mostly, and they don’t concern our morale problem.
Mr. GURNEY. With respect again to the morale, you identified the poor quality of the morale, as you put it, due to shifts in jobs and uncertainty in jobs. Is that the sort of thing you are talking about?
Mr. BARON. Yes; actually it is. One case in point again after Spacecraft 9 was launched, we were supposed to have a shift rotation on a man-for-man basis and for the most part this did not come about, and it was difficult to get transferred to another shift. I myself was on a second shift for well over a year. There were many reasons why I wasn’t put on the first shift, because somebody else was going to school, or some such reason as that. We were limited as to our amount of people. The person was left in the area in that particular spot and he just stayed there. Some of these shift changes were actually put in the desk drawer and forgotten about.
Mr. GURNEY. You mean a request for a shift change?
Mr. BARON. No; the manager supervision, one supervisor made an attempt to get people’s names and what shifts they wanted to go to but that was usually as far as it ever went.
Mr. GURNEY. Are you saying that it didn’t reach the top, is that the idea?
Mr. BARON. I couldn’t know right now whether it reached the top or it reached the top and it was just shut off or whatever. This problem is supposed to be still in existence now.
Mr. GURNEY. Are there any particular groups of workers that you would say were particularly affected by poor morale as you call it?
Mr. BARON. Well in relation to the receiving and inspection area at North American, we had several people in there, in fact all the people in there, that were working there in August and September and October this last year, I don’t know any of them that wanted to stay in. They were all trying to get out but I guess they were corralled in that particular area and that is where they stayed. They were not actually receiving inspectors.
Mr. GURNEY. Was this because they didn’t like that particular kind of a job?
Mr. BARON. Well, the receiving inspector job is a labor grade 6 or 8 or possibly 10 and many of us were top 12 in a particular area and just didn’t have any business being there really, where our job codes called for other jobs, although this is a vital area.
Mr. GURNEY. But nothing wrong with the treatment of the people who are doing, this kind of job?
Mr. BARON. Well, I think if you had an interview with Mr. Wade McCrary about treatment of people, I believe he will give you a better answer on the subject. He was supposedly acting leadman for quite some time and had the responsibility of acting leadman and when he finally challenged the management for his job for leadman, he was not made leadman, so he left the company.
Mr. GURNEY. One final question; assuming what you say about morale is true, do you think this affected the work on the job?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir; I do.
Mr. GURNEY. In what way?
Mr. BARON. Well, especially in reference to safety, lackadaisical in some job operations, sleeping on the job, people just—a lot of them just didn’t care one way or the other and I am not talking about isolated instances, many times of bookreading and sleeping and things of this nature.
Mr. GURNEY. That is all.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Daddario?
Mr. DADDARIO. Mr. Baron, as I take it from the response to Mr. Gurney’s question, you certainly were personally unhappy with the situation.
Mr. BARON. Well, I don’t know what you mean by personally unhappy.
Mr. DADDARIO. You were testifying as to the morale of others. How did this affect you, individually?
Mr. BARON. Well, I didn’t feel too well about the other people being treated and myself being treated as we were being treated. I have had a health problem for some time on this particular contract as a diabetic and if was supposedly difficult for me to work many of the long hours that I did have to work.
Mr. DADDARIO. This same characteristic that you apply to others, you agree to, and that there was a bad general overall condition amongst North American employees?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir.
Mr. DADDARIO. Yet, in your report which I have before me when your work was terminated with North American you said, “I was terminated at 4 o’clock that evening. It was a very sorrowful event for me. There was nothing more that I wanted than to be associated with the space program.”
Mr. BARON. That is correct.
Mr. DADDARIO. How do you tie that in with your previous statements?
Mr. BARON. Which previous statements?
Mr. DADDARIO. Why would it have been a sorrowful event to leave a program that you wanted to be associated with if, in fact, the conditions under which you were working were so terrible as you indicated them to be in answer to Mr. Gurney’s question?
Mr. BARON. Regardless of whether or not North American Aviation treated its people properly, you would still have a job to do and the bird is up there, and the people are up there, and you have a task to perform.
Mr. DADDARIO. What was your job?
Mr. BARON. I was a quality control inspector.
Mr. DADDARIO. What did that include and involve?
Mr. BARON. An extensive amount of responsibilities.
Mr. DADDARIO. Well, “extensive” sir, is something that is hard for me to comprehend under these circumstances.
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir.
Mr. DADDARIO. You had a job as a missile preflight inspector.
Mr. BARON. That is what is on my particular record.
Mr. DADDARIO. What were your hours of employment and what were you supposed to be doing during those hours?
Mr. BARON. When I was a foreman my hours of employment varied tremendously. They normally were 3:30 in the afternoon until midnight. I usually reported to work approximately one hour early and in some cases—well, in many, many cases in the past year or so we have worked 55 and 60-hour weeks. My job included verifying the proper installation of components, verifying that tests were being run per procedure or documented changes, verifying the proper identification and damage of materials going in to the spacecraft and out to the sites to be used in the ground support work.
Mr. DADDARIO. Where did you do that?
Mr. BARON. What?
Mr. DADDARIO. Where did you work?
Mr. BARON. Location wise, I worked at pad 34 on the complex and on the gantry. I have worked at pad 16, which is prepressure test facility, propulsion test facility. I have worked in the life support area, I have worked in receiving inspection, I have worked in the site lab or computer room, as we call it. It is a test troubleshooting area, and I have worked at the MSOB right here at the high bay area on the floor.
Mr. DADDARIO. You didn’t feel that was a proper designation or have had another the work that you were doing? You should have had another designation?
Mr. BARON. It all depends on what outline the personnel will give you for labor grade 12.
Mr. DADDARIO. You said you were an LG-12, but that you shouldn’t have been there. Even though you were designated as that, you should have been something else. I wonder what idea you had in mind with reference to your classification?
Mr. BARON. I think in reference to that it was when I was describing my work at launch complex 34. At that time I was not a top labor grade 12. It was just several months or a couple months after I was hired by the company and in some cases the water glycol engineer would leave the net, then I would be the only one on the net as far as the blockhouse participant was concerned.
Mr. DADDARIO. You felt that you should have had a higher classification and greater responsibility?
Mr. BARON. No sir. I felt someone else should be there with more authority. A labor grade 12 is at the bottom and doesn’t have hardly any authority, and to be left in his hands shouldn’t occur.
Mr. DADDARIO. Was it a matter of authority or competency and experience? Did you feel you had experience to do the job?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir; I did.
Mr. DADDARIO. You were dissatisfied not with the job being properly done on that occasion, because you felt that you personally had the competence. But you did not have the job classification and authority to do to go along with it?
Mr BARON. No. That is negative. I felt that the engineer who was in charge of the test should have stayed on the test, either he or his NASA counterpart, of which there was no one.
Mr. DADDARIO. You worked at North American for how long?
Mr. BARON. On the Apollo program since September 20, 1965.
Mr. DADDARIO. You started out in what capacity?
Mr. BARON. At the bottom of labor grade 12.
Mr. DADDARIO. You continued in that capacity during the course of your employment with them, until terminated?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. I was promoted until I got to the top of labor grade 12.
Mr. DADDARIO. During the course of your employment with North American you proceeded from a low level 12 to the top level 12. Were you properly promoted within that period of time?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir.
Mr. HECHLER. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Hechler.
Mr. HECHLER. Mr. Baron, the Board of Review very meticulously examined the events leading up to the fire and the Board conclusively repudiates the allegation that you have carried to this committee that the astronauts tried for five minutes to get out of the spacecraft, and this committee heard the last six minutes of tape which, in itself, repudiates this allegation, and I think it is utterly irresponsible for you to come before this committee and attempt to dignify a conversation that you had in a drugstore in an effort to set forth conclusions which have been repudiated by a very thorough examination of a Board review. I feel it is unfortunate that this has been brought before the committee. I think this report of the Review Board speaks for itself. I would just like to ask one or two very brief questions. Do you know who Mr. Slayton is, Mr. Baron?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir; I know who he is.
Mr. HECHLER. Do you know what position he holds in the space program?
Mr. BARON. Well, not exactly.
Mr. HECHLER. You don’t know what position he holds in the space program?
Mr. BARON. You mean direct connection with it?
Mr. HECHLER. Yes.
Mr. BARON. I think I know what he is; yes, sir. But I don’t know his title.
Mr. HECHLER. Do you know what his first name is?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir—well, no, sir; I only know and refer to him as “Deke.”
Mr. HECHLER. Do you know how he spells his last name?
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. HECHLER. How does he spell his last name?
Mr. BARON. S-l-a-y-t-o-n, I believe.
Mr. HECHLER. Thank you. I observed on three or four different occasions you spelled it a different way in the report, and I just felt that wasn’t very good quality control at that point. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Fulton.
Mr. FULTON. The question arises on your opportunity to observe and your qualifications for observation. You were hired by North American as a labor grade 12, and stayed within that class all during your service since September 20, 1965, is that correct?
Mr. BARON. That is correct.
MR. FULTON. That is not in a professional nor engineering category, but a labor category is it not?
Mr. BARON. What do you classify as labor?
Mr. FULTON. It is a nontechnical qualified engineering or nonprofessional position; is that not right?
Mr. BARON. No, sir; I think it calls for technically qualified people, but not anyone with an engineering degree.
Mr. FULTON. Therefore from your previous experience and education you are not qualified to give in expert opinion on engineering processes or systems. Is that correct?
Mr. BARON. No, sir; that is not correct. If I see a particular indication that is improper, whether or not an engineer agrees with it, it may be wrong. This has occurred on many occasions where engineering itself has argued the point. I have won many arguments on this point, and engineering has. Testing out these vehicles and systems is no more complicated than running field quality check on an old B-52 bomber. I was an airman second class, nontechnical, non-engineering type when I was doing that kind of work.
Mr. FULTON. Is the basis of your criticism in the engineering procedures either—
Mr. BARON. Would you repeat that question, please?
Mr. FULTON. I will ask the reporter to read the question to you.
The REPORTER. I didn’t understand the question, either. Would you be good enough to repeat it? [Laughter.]
Mr. FULTON. Is your criticism either of NASA or North American directed at engineering procedures or systems? I don’t believe it is, is it?
Mr. BARON. In some cases it is, on the water glycol system.
Mr. FULTON. Now, the other point that I would like to inquire into is your ability to observe or whether your observations might be colored by your own personal reasons or motives. You have spoken that you have physical difficulties. What were those physical difficulties during this time of employment?
Mr. BARON. Mostly from overwork and not being able to go home.
Mr. FULTON. Well, those are the reasons, but what were the difficulties?
Mr. BARON. Well, exhaustion would be one of them, tiredness.
Mr. FULTON. Were you under the care of a physician or physicians, a chiropractor or a psychiatrist at any time during this period?
Mr. BARON. Which period, sir?
Mr. FULTON. Of your employment since September 20, 1965, under North American.
Mr. BARON. I have been under a doctor’s care quite often.
Mr. FULTON. Who were the doctors?
Mr. BARON. Dr. Chastain of the Jess Parish Hospital or the Titusville clinic, here.
Mr. FULTON. For what did you see him?
Mr. BARON. Nervous condition.
Mr. FULTON. Is he a doctor or a psychiatrist?
Mr. BARON. He is a doctor, doctor of internal medicine, I believe.
Mr. FULTON. How many times did you see him over this period for a nervous condition?
Mr. BARON. I saw him on one day. He was an associate of Dr. Osmond who was treating me as a diabetic and an ulcer.
Mr. FULTON. You have had an ulcer during this time?
Mr. BARON. Yes, Sir, I most certainly did.
Mr. FULTON. Could your complaints have been caused by the condition of your ulcer acting on your own feelings?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. I think Dr. Chastain could possibly verify that the only reason I got the nervous and ulcer condition was that I was concerned with spacecraft 12.
Mr. FULTON. What other doctor had you seen and for what purpose?
Mr. BARON. Prior to that time, Dr. Blackburn in the Melbourne General Hospital in Melbourne, Fla.
Mr. FULTON. What for?
Mr. BARON. Diabetes.
Mr. FULTON. Who else did you see?
Mr. BARON. A Dr. Killinger at the Holiday Hospital in Orlando during Christmas of last year when I was in the hospital.
Mr. FULTON. Why did you see him?
Mr. BARON. It was for a diabetes problem.
Mr. FULTON. Was it anything to do with any problems that caused physical stress on you and your mind?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir. This is one of the reasons why my diabetes at this particular time was going off kilter, I guess you could say.
Mr. FULTON. Who else did you see during this period?
Mr. BARON. During my hospital stay, you mean, aside from doctor –
Mr. FULTON. How long were you there? We are trying to get your medical history to see what power you had to observe.
Mr. WYDLER. Would it be possible for Mr. Baron to submit it for the record? We don’t want to listen to every doctor he has ever seen in his life.
Mr. FULTON. I want to know if his observations were made from a capacity which is unbiased or uncolored by his physical condition. I think that information would contribute to the hearing. Would you quickly give me another one or two?
Mr. BARON. That is all the doctors I had seen lately. I talked to Dr. Hare, the astronauts’ doctor, I believe, or one of them on the staff.
Mr. FULTON. Was that for a physical condition or a mental condition?
Mr. BARON. I wouldn’t know. It was after the inquiry board hearing. And I took it as a psychiatric examination.
Mr. FULTON. Was there any report given on that?
Mr. BARON. No, sir, not that I know of.
Mr. FULTON. Was it an extensive examination?
Mr. BARON. No, sir, it was a half-hour conversation with him about problems on the spacecraft, and I believe he went into some personal things also.
Mr. FULTON. Your problems, too?
Mr. BARON. That is correct.
Mr. FULTON. So that both you and your mind and the spacecraft had problems, didn’t you?
Mr. BARON. I think we all have our own problems. [Laughter.] The spacecraft definitely had its problems.
Mr. FULTON. That is all.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Baron, if things were really as bad as you pictured them by the things that, you have said to this committee in your report, do you believe we would ever have gotten a shot off to the moon? Do you think we ever would have had one successful shot?
Mr. BARON. Certainly, sir.
Mr. TEAGUE. With the conditions you pictured here, do you think we could be successful in any of our shots?
Mr. BARON. No sir; no, sir; I don’t think so.
Mr. TEAGUE. We have had a lot of successes?
Mr. BARON. Yes, Sir; you have. But not on the Apollo program.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Wydler.
Mr. WYDLER. I just want to get very clear about that one doctor that you told us about. You say that a doctor from NASA talked to you about something or other. How did that come about? Did you ask to see them, or did he request you to talk to him, or what?
Mr. BARON. Mr. Wydler, since I discussed this report with the first man I ever met in the hospital back in November, I had a NASA man in the hospital with me over here as a roommate for a 24-hour period. I had a NASA man in the Orlando hospital talk to me about the same problems I am discussing right now. When I was transferred over there he showed up the next day and talked to me for two days. I also saw Mr. John Brooks over at the Orlando hospital. He was an investigator from Washington headquarters in NASA. He held an interview with me over there. When I got back home after the accident had occurred, I was called to meet with the inquiry board. I believe there was nine of them there, one of the subboards, and Dr. Hare was there also, and he wanted to have a half hour or so private session with me after the board left, which he did have, and he indicated to me certainly that he was delving into personal problems of my own, asking me about them—well, it was another case of a NASA man talking to me about the same problems.
Mr. WYDLER. Did he say he was acting on anybody’s behalf or on NASA’s behalf, or on the review board’s behalf?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. Only one NASA man, Mr. Brooks, said this. No one said they were acting on behalf of any board.
Mr. WYDLER. Let me understand this. Do all these matters of deficiencies, as you express them in this program relate directly to matters of safety? I know in a broad sense they all relate to safety. But, if you can tell us, do any of them relate to matters of what we could call immediate safety to the crew of the spacecraft?
Mr. BARON. No, sir.
Mr. WYDLER. Let me ask you one final question: You know, exhibit A here is the picture I had asked some questions about to the witnesses from NASA and North American that were here just before you. Do you know anything about the wire which is theorized to be the wire that is guilty of causing this fire? Do you know anything regarding its installation, its inspection, or anything that might throw some light on this particular wire, the lithium door, or anything of that nature?
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir, I do. But, here, again, it is something that has been referred to me by another individual, and if I do bring it up, I dislike being called irresponsible in making any of these comments to you. People have to understand, especially this committee, that these people could not say anything to anybody about this thing when it did occur. I happened to have been terminated the day I got back to work. I wasn’t out for allowing these people here—I got a lot of anonymous calls from people about troubles on the spacecraft prior and immediately prior to the fire. These people that I discussed it with knew they were jeopardizing their jobs if they were caught talking to me or got discussing something they got out of the news. This is how the company feels about it, naturally.
Mr. WYDLER. You say you don’t know anything about this personally, but you are indicating somebody might have said something to you about it; is that right?
Mr. BARON. Definitely.
Mr. WYDLER. You don’t feel that you want to discuss that with the committee at this time?
Mr. BARON. I Would be more than happy to say it, if Mr. Hechler would take a more objective view of the statements.
Mr. WYDLER. I can’t answer for Mr. Hechler, but I would like to hear it.
Mr. BARON. Yes, sir; I will be more than happy to.
Mr. WYDLER. Please tell us.
Mr. BARON. I discussed it with another individual at his home, and he witnessed one evening when he was working three technicians who were supposed to flush out, this is by purging the environmental control unit with an alcohol solution to apparently clean it and get it ready for proper use. He disclosed to me that a 55-gallon drum had been delivered to the site, I guess it was right here at MSOB. I don’t know for sure. I guess it was—a 55-gallon drum of 190-proof alcohol that was delivered to them. The three men who were assigned to flushing this unit out were—well, one of them took a five-gallon jug of this stuff home and one other, or perhaps all three of them, I don’t really recall right now, had mixed this stuff and cut it with water and were drinking-it right here at the site, and they were carrying it around in plastic bags.
Mr. WYDLER. Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with this particular wire or this particular door.
Mr. BARON. Possibly so, because they were working on that unit and the spacecraft, and this is the only link I could put between them, between what you have there and the drinking.
Mr. FULTON. Would you yield? I want to say who, when, and where?
Mr. WYDLER. I just want to finish this up, if I could.
Mr. Baron, I notice one other thing under life support you pointed out in your report. It is our report of your report, on page 17. It does relate to, spacecraft 12, and you were talking about the fuel tank being worked on without any paperwork and so forth. Would this have anything to do with the wire or lithium door that we are talking about here?
Mr. BARON. No, sir.
Mr. WYDLER. That is all.
Mr. FULTON. When you are speaking about people, it naturally raises the question, who, when, and where. Who was there to observe with you?
Mr. BARON. The same gentleman is Mr. Holmburg that disclosed that information to me. That is the only name I know. And I have related to Mr. Wydler exactly what, he related to me.
Mr. FULTON. This Mr. Holmburg was not involved in this situation, was he? He was simply the relay of hearsay of what went on, wasn’t he?
Mr. BARON. That is right, sir.
Mr. FULTON. I would like to make clear that this committee has no official position with regard to you nor have I said anything favorably or unfavorably about your testimony. I certainly want to inquire and get corroboration so we can determine the correctness and the truth of your statements. If you will cooperate with this committee, and with the chairman’s permission, put into the record any further suggestions of witnesses, times, or events we can look into, outside of the report, which we have all rad, please let us hear.
Mr. BARON. Which report was that, sir?
Mr. FULTON. The original report.
Mr. BARON. I have sent to the chairman of this committee a more through report which includes all the names.
Mr. FULTON. I have all the names, but I read them and said to myself, who should we call?
Mr. BARON. No, sir. You are talking about the 55-page report. I am talking about the 500-page report.
Mr. TEAGUE. Your report went to the chairman of the full committee, not to me. He told me he received it.
Mr. BARON. I have a 500-page report. I have an opening statement which I wanted to read, which described this 500-page report, and in this I think you can get all the possible names that there are, the times, the dates, the tests that were being run and the internal letters of the company, proper specifications, especially in regard to flammability of materials. All this is in this new report.
Mr. FULTON. When did you start to take such a serious and active interest in what you felt was what you felt was wrong and kept such detailed records? Why did you do it? Why didn’t you refer it to someone else within your company who had responsibility to investigate?
Mr. BARON. This was done. I started working for this company in September 1965. I started taking notes in November of 1965 when I was assigned to the pad 34 complex. All my daily notes and many, many more letters and reports I had made out were sent up through my headman and through assistant supervision. If they did not get through to the top, then I don’t know what happened to the notes and letters. But they were sent up. The information in either of my reports were given to North American on a time-to-time basis, on a daily basis, practically. I used to run my supervisor out of these forms because I had so many letters, because I used to write so many of these letters about discrepant actions.
Mr. FULTON. Did other people who were working with you do this, too, or were you the only one?
Mr. BARON. I don’t believe anybody did it to the extent that I did it, sir.
Mr. FULTON. That is all, sir.
Mr. WYDLER. Could I suggest that if Mr. Baron has some concluding remarks, or if he would like to submit a statement for the record, that he may be afforded an opportunity? I see you have something before you, and perhaps you would like to put it in.
Mr. BARON. I think I have covered most of it. I have the report that I would like to be submitted as a part of the record, the 500-page report.
Mr. WYDLER. That means printing it. That is something we should leave to the committee, something of that length, whether we want to print it as part of the public documents. We can take it as an exhibit. Whether we will print it as part of the public record is something we should decide after we see it. Is that all right with you?
Mr. BARON. Yes.
Mr. TEAGUE. I think we are through with you. The Board has found some of the things you have said to be true. What you have done has caused North American to search their procedures. Thank you very much.
Mr. BARON. Thank you.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Holmburg, are you in the room? (Whereupon, Mervin Holmburg was called before the committee, and, being first duly sworn, was examined and replied as follows.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Holmburg, did you come here of your own free will?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Yes, sir.
Mr. TEAGUE. Would you give us your full name and address for the sake of the record?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Mervin Holmburg, 3031 Pimbrook Road, Titusville, Fla.
Mr. TEAGUE. Mr. Holmburg, Mr. Baron has testified, as I am sure you know, that you told him that you knew what caused the accident and all about it. Did you ever tell in anything of that nature?
Mr. HOLMBURG. No, sir.
Mr. FULTON. Will you put your hand down away from your mouth?
Mr. TEAGUE. Did you ever discuss the cause of the accident in a drugstore with Mr. Baron?
Mr. HOLMBURG. No. I talked to him many times in the drugstore, but that is about it.
Mr. TEAGUE. But you did not say that you and other people know what caused the fire?
Mr. HOLMBURG. No, sir.
Mr. DADDARIO. What was the nature of your conversation with him on those occasions in the drugstore?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Well, most of them was about his report, why he wrote it and when he wrote it and so forth. Whether he was making progress on it.
Mr. DADDARIO. Did you in any instance while he was relating this to you agree with him as to the difficulties which the Apollo spacecraft had run into and the tragedy that had occurred which would give him any indication that you did have the answer to the problem which caused the fire?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Never.
Mr. DADDARIO. Can you say that with as clear a recollection as possible of the conversation you had with Mr. Baron?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Yes, sir. I bumped into him accidentally almost every time I met him. I told him I shouldn’t even be talking with him because of the report he is writing, and he is probably being watched. He gets all his information from anonymous phone calls, people calling him and people dropping him a word here and there. That is what he tells me.
Mr. DADDARIO. What caused you to come here today? We had not scheduled you as a witness. I had no idea; in fact, I can’t recall that I ever heard your name before today. What brought you here?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Well, I work right outside the door here, and it is my time to come to work now.
Mr. DADDARIO. Why would you have asked that you might be allowed to testify?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Well, Mr. Baron had brought my name up a couple of times in here, and I thought I should come in here to defend it.
Mr. DADDARIO. You come here for that purpose?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Yes, sir.
Mr. WYDEN. Who told you that?
Mr. HOLMBURG. I can’t recall who that was now.
Mr. WYDLER. You mean you can’t recall who told you that?
Mr. HOLMBURG. There were several people right outside the door and I overheard it being mentioned.
Mr. SMART. I am Mr. Robert Smart, Assistant to the President of North American Aviation. When Mr. Holmburg’s name was injected into this testimony in the manner in which all of you know, I did not feel that we could leave it unanswered at this time, if there was an answer to it, therefore I asked one of our employees here to see if he could find him. He did find him. He asked him to come out in the hall. I told him the accusations which had been made by Mr. Baron. If he wanted to appear and testify under oath, to tell the truth, that he would have an opportunity, and I then came in—and he said he did want to so testify—I came in, and I sent that word to Mr. Teague, and you know what has happened from that point to now.
Mr. WYDLER I do.
Mr. TEAGUE. We have two minutes left, Mr. Wydler.
Mr. WYDLER. Did you ever speak with Mr. Baron about the 012 fire?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Casually, yes.
Mr. WYDLER. What does that mean, “casually?”
Mr. HOLMBURG. He has ideas of what caused the fire. He did most of the talking about it and I listened to speculations on that thing. I never made any comments about what caused it or I never told him exactly what caused it. I was never near the accident when it happened.
Mr. FULTON. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. TEAGUE. One question.
Mr. FULTON. You are certain at no time you gave any statement that you had knowledge of the cause of the Apollo 204 accident that killed three astronauts, that you at no time said that they were in the capsule for five minutes without getting out, nor that there had been nine minutes’ notice of a fire and nothing was done about it?
Mr. HOLMBURG. No, sir.
Mr. FULTON. You are absolutely sure?
Mr. HOLMBURG. Yes, sir.
Mr. FULTON. Thank you. That is all.
Mr. TEAGUE. The committee will be adjourned.
Mr. WYDLER. I would just like to get straight for the record that I have certain additional witnesses that I would like to see before the committee here. I will take this up at the time that the Chair suggests would be the most convenient time. But, I want to make it clear as we adjourn here today that I will make this request sometime either in executive session or public sessions, whichever may turn out to be the best time. I would like to, however, say that I would like to see one thing, and I think the committee should see it. That is the picture, and I think there are moving pictures of the fire that was simulated of the 012 spacecraft fire. They simulated the fire. NASA did some test somewhere, I would like to see the motion pictures of that fire if there are any motion pictures of that test.
Mr. TEAGUE. The committee is adjourned.
Mr. DADDARIO. Mr. Chairman, one moment, before you adjourn. I would like to just say one thing at this time. One matter has stood in my mind since we questioned some of the people at the top of the pad where the tragedy took place. The names of the men I don’t recall. But, I am referring to the pad leader and the people with him. I would like to have their names. (Information requested is as follows) D.O. Babbitt, NAA Pad Leader. J.D. Gleaves, NAA Mechanical Lead Technician. L.D. Reece, NAA Quality Control. H.H. Rogers, NASA Quality Control. Above personnel are those interviewed by the Committee at Complex 34 on the morning of April 21, 1967. For a complete list of those personnel on level A-7 and A-8 of the Service Structure during the accident, refer to Panel 12 report, pages D-12-7 through D-12-9.
Mr. DADDARIO. I believe that under the conditions that they were operating under at the time of the accident-the great heat, flame, and smoke these men, notwithstanding the finding of the board that there was not adequate fire and rescue teams available at the time, and, acting on their own under extremely dangerous conditions, acted with great courage. I think that we all ought to commend them, and understand that they reacted as competent, experienced and brave men should. We are in their debt for what they tried to do on that day.
Mr. TEAGUE. I certainly agree with the gentleman, and the committee is adjourned. (Whereupon, at 3 p.m., the committee was adjourned.)
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