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NASA commemorates those lost in 3 tragedies on Day of Remembrance

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — It has been nearly 20 years since the seven crew members aboard Space Shuttle Columbia didn’t make it home, and NASA leaders gathered Thursday to commemorate their lives as well as those from Space Shuttle Challenger and Apollo 1 on the Day of Remembrance.

The somber annual event ties together the three fatal incidents as well as remembering others who died in the pursuit of space exploration.

The anniversaries of Apollo, Challenger and Columbia fall within six days of each other.

The Apollo 1 fire that killed Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee during a launchpad test at what was then Cape Kennedy Air Force Station happened in the early evening of Friday, Jan. 27, 1967. The three astronauts who were set to be the first crewed mission of the Apollo lunar landing program were testing ahead of their planned February launch when a fire broke out at 6:31 p.m. during a simulation on Launch Complex 34.

NASA’s next major blow came 19 years and one day later, just before noon on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986, when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Central Florida after an O-ring seal failed.

People all over the country viewed the disaster live because the shuttle was carrying Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. Also killed were astronauts Michael J. Smith, Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnick.


Then 17 years and three days later tragedy struck again, when in the morning hours of Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry on the shuttle’s 28th mission, killing the seven-member crew of STS-107 — Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Among several events around the nation was a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It was held at the Space Mirror Memorial with Astronauts Memorial Foundation president and state Rep. Thad Altman as well as Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro and NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana.

“Why do we do this every year? Why do we have a NASA Day of Remembrance?” asked Cabana. “Obviously, it’s to honor our fallen comrades ... those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in our quest to explore. But more importantly, it’s so we do not forget the hard lessons learned from Apollo, Challenger and Columbia.”

He shared heartfelt memories of each of the seven crew of Columbia, recalling, for instance, Mike Anderson, who had “two of the most beautiful daughters,” and Laurel Clark, who “could always make you smile” and had “the wildest socks all the time.” For Israeli astronaut Ramon, he recalled his infectious smile.


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