Command and Control

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Book: Command and Control by Eric Schlosser Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Schlosser
asked Heineman, who was sitting nearby, if he could think of anything.
    The Klaxon went off, and the FUEL VAPOR LAUNCH DUCT light on the commander’s console began flashing red.
    Powell and Plumb left the silo and closed the door. Powell wanted to take the elevator down to a lower level, look at the base of the missile, and assess the damage. But the team chief ordered him and Plumb to get out ofthe cableway and enter the blast lock, where the backup team was stationed. Roger Hamm and Gregory Lester opened blast door 9 for them, let them in, and then Lester quickly pulled it shut. They popped the helmets off their RFHCOs, as Hamm locked the door. Powell threw the wrench handle onto the floor and cursed.
    Mazzaro turned off the Klaxon. The FUEL VAPOR LAUNCH DUCT light made no sense. Why would that come on, when the PTS crew was pressurizing the stage 2 oxidizer tank? He asked for vapor readings from the mine safety appliance, which were displayed on a panel in the blast lock. Three old-fashioned gauges there showed the vapor levels in the silo. Needles on the gauges moved to the right as the amount of vapor increased. The PTS team reported that the oxidizer level was ten parts per million—and the fuel vapor level was forty parts per million, almost the maximum reading. One of those gauges had to be wrong. There couldn’t be fuel vapors and oxidizer vapors in the silo at the same time; the two would have mixed and caused an explosion. Mazzaro wondered which gauge was correct. Then the needle on the fuel vapor gauge surged all the way to the right, and the MSA spiked.
    The Klaxon went off again, and Al Childers looked up. He’d ignored it the first time, but now realized that something was wrong. He was sitting at a table behind the commander’s console, filling out paperwork that recommended his student, Miguel Serrano, for another alert. Suddenly the console was lit up like a Christmas tree. Rows of warning lights were flashing red. Then Childers heard somebody say there was a fire in the hole, got up from the table, grabbed a copy of the
Dash-1
, searched the manual for the fire checklist, found it, and started going through each step. Now the SPRAY lights were lit, which meant that the fire suppression system had been automatically triggered. Thousands of gallons of water were pouring into the launch duct. Childers pushed the SURFACE WARNING CONTROL button, turning on the red beacon topside, and contacted the PTS team up there.
    Eric Ayala was in his RFHCO suit, standing near the nitrogen tank on the hardstand, when he heard over the radio that Powell and Plumb were backing out of the silo. Then he heard“fire in the hole” and Childersordering everyone topside to evacuate the site. Ayala and his partner, Richard Willinghurst, quickly took off their RFHCOs. The third member of the team, David Aderhold, was sitting in a truck parked near the access portal, monitoring the radio. The truck held four extra RFHCOs, air packs, dewar units to refill them with air, and a portable shower. After hearing the order to evacuate, he helped Ayala and Willinghurst pack up their suits. Everyone jumped into the truck, leaving an empty pickup behind, and then Willinghurst drove toward the gate. A white cloud floated from the silo exhaust shaft, like smoke rising from a chimney.
    Childers called the command post and said there was a fire in the silo. Mazzaro was already on the phone with Little Rock. Holder came down the stairs, noticed the commotion, and sat at the commander’s console. The warning lights didn’t make sense— FUEL VAPOR LAUNCH DUCT, OXI VAPOR LAUNCH DUCT, FIRE LAUNCH DUCT . One of those might be correct, but not all three at the same time. Holder decided to go through the checklists for a fuel leak, an oxidizer leak, a fire. One of the first steps for any propellant leak was to check the propellant tank pressure monitor unit (PTPMU), the digital readout on top of the console. It

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