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Thomas Ronald Baron was a quality control inspector for North American Aviation (NAA), the company responsible for building the command module. Baron's activities after the Apollo 1 fire are interpreted by conspiracists as support for a conspiracy.

Mr. Baron started working for NAA in September 1965 and was assigned as an inspector at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the launch site. In late 1966, Baron presented to NASA officials a 58-page report alleging improper action, discrepancies, failures, and other irregularities he had witnessed. KSC officials notified NAA managers, who met with Baron to address his concerns. The senior quality control officer of NAA attended this meeting. They found that some of Baron's criticism had merit, but the rest of his report was inapplicable or unfounded for a variety of reasons.

Baron, apparently displeased with NASA's and NAA's response, leaked his report to the media. This angered NAA officials, who fired him in late 1966. NAA also issued a public response to his report.

On his own, Mr. Baron began to assemble a more thorough report (about 500 pages long, according to Baron) in which he apparently hoped to document his charges of safety violations. After the Apollo 1 fire, he delivered his report to the Congressional committees investigating the incident. He also testified before a subcommittee headed by Rep. Olin Teague (D-TX).

Shortly after the committee rendered its findings, Thomas Baron and his family were killed when their car was struck by a train.

Thomas Baron's report was especially damning to NASA.

If anything it was especially damning to North American, not to NASA. The 58-page report (which has survived) does not bring any allegations against NASA, therefore it's unsupportable to assume the longer report (which has not survived) necessarily would have.

The investigation after the fire pitted North American against NASA. If either one of them appeared clearly at fault, the other would likely be exonerated. NASA charged that NAA had been negligent in building the spacecraft and filling it with flammable items. NAA charged that NASA demanded far too many changes in the design without giving NAA time to accommodate them, and unsafely operated the spacecraft with a high-pressure oxygen environment, and that the flammable items had been demanded by NASA's astronauts and therefore could not be easily refused.

If anything, NASA would have wanted Baron's report to be given special attention because it outlined lax safety procedures on the part of North American alone, exonerating NASA. NASA had previously questioned the effectiveness of North American's development program. Although this seems callous to think this way, NASA would have been motivated to pin the blame on North American, and Baron's report would have helped that.

Thomas Baron found evidence of massive safety violations at North American, and North American tried to suppress the evidence.

Baron was so prolific with his official incident reports that his supervisor ran out of report forms. To some this would seem that Baron was adamant about his job as a quality control inspector. But to others it might seem as if he is being nit-picky or petty. He complains that his reports didn't seem to go any farther than his immediate supervisor. If Mr. Baron was constantly overtaxing the quality control reporting mechanism with low-priority items, management would probably respond by routinely shelving his recommendations, thus perhaps even overlooking important ones he might make. It is important for this reason not to "cry wolf" in the capacity of a safety inspector.

We know in hindsight that at least some of Baron's concerns were valid, and that at least some of his incident reports should have elicited action. But it's easy to see how management might have become desensitized to Baron's input and thus dismissed the valid reports along with the nit-picky ones. It is reasonable to conclude that North American squelched Mr. Baron, but because of the volume of his complaints and not their content.

However there is good evidence that Baron eventually found an avenue for communicating his concerns to upper management. He met with the head of North American's quality control division. While some of his charges were completely anonymous or had been blown out of proportion, North American found items they believed were worthy of action. All agree that North American was in the process of addressing Baron's few credible allegations with changes to their procedures when the Apollo 1 fire took place.

Thomas Baron unwisely leaked his report to the media shortly after meeting with NAA officials, and this undoubtedly soured North American's relationship with him. Baron was a rank-and-file employee. He did not necessarily have the perspective necessary to evaluate his charges in context of the entire spacecraft construction. Since some of his charges were valid, the unknowing media could plausibly assume that all were valid. And the resulting sensational coverage would have placed North American in unfavorable light that they did not necessarily deserve. Baron's conversations with Congress indicate that he was, to a certain extent, a disgruntled employee and not the best witness.

It is perhaps proper to consider Thomas Baron at least the bellwether of the tragedy, and to chide North American for not paying closer attention to his reports. The fact that three astronauts died is a clear indication that safety procedures were either inadequate or were not being followed.

But it's going a bit too far to claim that Baron's supervisor shelved his reports for any reason other than that he was submitting too many of them. And it's probably going a bit too far to claim that North American's officials didn't act on them once they were informed of them. And it's reasonable to expect North American to defend itself against unfair allegations in the press, especially at the hands of one of their employees who might be afforded greater credibility.

The 500-page report written by Thomas Baron mysteriously disappeared after his death. NASA probably destroyed it.

The characterization of the missing report is an interesting historical mystery, for whose answer we turn to Baron's testimony before Rep. Olin Teague's (D-TX) subcommittee on NASA oversight, and Al Holmburg's testimony immediately following Baron's.

It appears some of the committee members have some doubt about Baron's credibility. Their questioning reveals that he has little or no firsthand knowledge about conditions which may have contributed to the fire. Mr. Holmburg testifies that the Baron report is almost entirely hearsay -- Baron himself didn't actually witness the vast majority of what he reported. The deliberations of the committee suggest the primary contribution of Mr. Baron's report to the committee investigation is to provide names of other possible witnesses, not to tell an accurate picture of what was going on at North American.

At this point it becomes important to distinguish between legal admissibility and useful information. North American found Mr. Baron's work at least partly helpful in reforming their own operations. But testimony before government authority is not allowed to be hearsay. Mr. Baron collected reports of discrepant action from both named and anonymous sources, but in each case someone who actually witnessed the action would have to testify to it in order for that testimony to be valid in shaping public policy. So Mr. Baron's report isn't necessarily admissible itself as evidence.

But the disposition of the report is in question, not its value. The committee balked at printing it as part of the official record because it was so long. And this would be prohibitively awkward and expensive for something which is largely inadmissible. If the report had been treated as an exhibit, which was suggested, its contents would not be part of the official findings, but it may have been retained in archive.

Baron's untimely death complicates matters because he would have been the logical person to receive the report after Congress was finished with it. NASA couldn't have destroyed it because NASA never had custody of it. It went from Thomas Baron's hands to Congress's hands. North American never had custody of it either. With no one to claim it, and with its usefulness to Congress limited to supplying names of future witnesses, and with an abbreviated version already part of the record and acknowledged by North American, there simply was no compelling reason to keep it around. We may consider that the report was returned to Baron, or that it was simply destroyed. At present Congress cannot determine whether it still has custody of it.

Conspiracists balk at this possibility, but we must face reality. The report was simply not as important -- in the evidentiary sense -- as they say it was. It was not a smoking gun. It was not anything which hadn't already been heard.

NASA had Thomas Baron killed in order to keep him from revealing embarrassing truths.

Officially Thomas Baron's death is ruled an accident by the Florida Highway Patrol. The investigating trooper concluded that Baron had tried to beat a train at a crossing. Had Baron been murdered, it would have made more sense to do that before he testified and before he delivered a lengthy report to Congress. Baron had already been known to the press as a sort of whistle-blower and a critic of North American since early 1967 at the latest. To try to "silence" him three months later, after his testimony, is useless.

NASA had nothing to gain by Baron's death. North American would have had something to gain had it occurred before his testimony and report. As it happens, NAA was not seriously implicated by Baron's testimony. NAA was able to substantiate that it had acted on the valid points of Baron's first report with due diligence, and was doing so when the Apollo 1 tragedy occurred.

If we dig a big deeper, we find that Thomas Baron was merely a pawn in a much larger political game. Sen. Walter Mondale (D-MN), an avowed opponent of NASA and space exploration, used the Apollo 1 hearings to reopen the question of whether Apollo was a prudent use of the nation's resources, and arranged for Baron's testimony precisely because he thought it would illustrate the waste and mismanagement at NASA and its contractors. We doubt whether Sen. Mondale was aware of how poor a witness Baron would turn out to be.

By his own admission, Baron had been treated earlier for an unspecified nervous condition. It is likely he was not in a good state of mental health during this period. This point was raised during Baron's testimony before Rep. Teague's subcommittee, but it is unclear whether it affected his judgment or had anything to do with his death.

Didn't Apollo defenders once claim that Baron had committed suicide?

Yes. That report was based on discussions among historians that occurred in about 2002 but was ultimately revealed to be little more than hearsay. Investigative journalist Gary Corsair reports the findings of the Florida Highway Patrol, and has uncovered no evidence of suicide.

Mr. Baron's "accident" is just a little too convenient.

Only if one assumes his testimony and report were sufficiently damaging.

In the final analysis, Baron's testimony did not materially affect the outcome of the committee's findings. But since he had trumpeted his findings in the press, the media reports of his report and activities were probably overstated.

If we put ourselves in the position of Mr. Baron's hypothetical murderer, we have to wonder first about timing. It's far too late to keep him from contributing to the investigation of the Apollo 1 fire, and Baron's credibility is already seriously compromised by the contradicting testimony of one of Baron's principal informants, Mervin "Al" Holmburg. The significant event to which Baron's death allegedly correlates chronologically is the release of the committee findings. If this is indeed a significant event in the chronology of the investigation, then it would look very suspicious for a participant in the hearings to meet his death -- by any means -- so soon after. Thus, the murder of Thomas Baron would serve no useful purpose, and look unnecessarily suspicious.

The story of Thomas Baron is indeed a sad one, but it is by no means evidence in favor of a lunar landing hoax.

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