U.S. President Barack Obama recalled the heroism of Americans who lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration to mark NASA's somber memorial today (Jan. 31) for three spaceflight disaster anniversaries this week.
"On this Day of Remembrance, we join the American people in honoring the men and women of NASA who have given their lives in our nation’s space program," Obama said in a statement. "Our exploration of space has expanded our knowledge of the universe, improved our lives here on Earth and been a source of inspiration and pride for generations of Americans."
NASA's Day of Remembrance is an annual time of reflection for the U.S. space agency to recall and honor the astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 fire of 1967, Challenger space shuttle accident of 1986 and Columbia shuttle tragedy of 2003. The anniversaries of all three disasters occur within a week-long period, a time in which NASA reflects on the disasters and other sacrifices among the NASA family. [NASA's Fallen Astronauts: A Photo Memorial]
"Today, we remember all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in these endeavors," Obama said. "We hope that the families, friends and colleagues of those we've lost will find some comfort in knowing that their loved ones will always be heroes to a grateful nation – that their passion and courage continue to inspire us to push the boundaries of our imagination and meet grand challenges with joy, here on Earth and among the heavens. Guided by their brave example, the United States will remain a nation of explorers, now and forever."
The Apollo 1 fire occurred on Jan. 27, 1967 during a dress rehearsal for NASA's first manned Apollo flight. During the test, a fire broke out inside the Apollo 1 capsule killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
On Jan. 28, 1987, the space shuttle Challenger broke up shortly after liftoff, killing astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who was selected by NASA to be the first teacher in space.
On Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry while return to Earth to conclude a marathon science mission in orbit. The disaster, which was caused by heat shield damage that occurred just after launch, killed NASA astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Today, NASA chief Charles Bolden —a former NASA space shuttle commander —echoed Obama's comments.
"On our annual Day of Remembrance, please join me in giving thanks for the legacy of the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; and Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight," Bolden said in a statement today. "These men and women were our friends, family and colleagues, and we will never forget their lives and passion to push us farther and achieve more. They have our everlasting love, respect and gratitude.
"Today, their legacy lives on as the International Space Station fulfills its promise to help us learn to live and work in space and move farther into the solar system, Bolden continued. "We see our lost friends in the strivings of so many missions to take humans to new destinations and to unlock the secrets of our universe. And we honor them by making our dreams of a better tomorrow reality and by acting to improve life for all of humanity."
Bolden concluded that the contributions of those lost in the pursuit of space exploration will never be forgotten.
"Let us join together as one NASA Family, along with the entire world, in paying our respects, and honoring the memories of our dear friends," he said. "They are with us still on this grand journey."
NASA has also produced a Day of Remembrance website honoring the Challenger, Apollo 1 and Columbia crews. You can explore it here: http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/DOR2014/index.html
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.