NASA honors its fallen astronauts on annual Day of Remembrance

a crowd of people sit in chairs facing a large black wall outdoors on a sunny day.
Family members of the fallen astronauts and officials with The Astronauts Memorial Foundation helped lead a ceremony and wreath laying on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in observance of NASA's Day of Remembrance at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Karen Bassett Stephenson reflected on the loss of her father while standing before the Space Mirror Memorial bearing his name.

The daughter of Charles Bassett, an astronaut who was killed in a 1966 jet crash while preparing to launch on a Gemini mission, Stephenson joined several other fallen astronauts' family members to observe NASA's Day of Remembrance at the Florida monument on Thursday (Jan. 25).

"The Mirror is so much more than polished stone and steel. It also represents the things which we can only hold in our hearts," said Stephenson. "In the Mirror's reflection, beyond the names of those we love so dearly, we can see courage and curiosity, hope, fear, grief, loss, love and extraordinary pride."

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The Space Mirror Memorial, which since 1991 has stood at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and has been maintained by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, honors 25 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of spaceflight or exploration. The names listed on the wall include seven victims of aircraft accidents and 18 astronauts who died aboard their spacecraft, including the Apollo 1, STS-51L/Challenger and STS-107/Columbia crews.

"Some of you remember the exact place you were and exactly what you were doing when you heard about the Challenger [disaster] or any of these other tragedies. Some of you weren't even alive yet," said Kathie Fulgham, chair of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and the daughter of STS-51L commander Dick Scobee. "On our annual Day of Remembrance, it means a great deal to the families of our fallen astronauts and to the NASA community. You honor us by being here to mourn the loss, but to also celebrate the lives of these astronauts."

Joining Fulgham and Stephenson for the ceremony were also Lowell Grissom and Cheryl Chaffee, the brother and daughter of Apollo 1 crewmates Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Roger Chaffee, respectively. The event concluded with the family members and the public in attendance leaving wreaths and flowers at the Mirror.

Family members of fallen astronauts Kathie Scobee Fulgham, Lowell Grissom, Sheryl Chaffee and Karen Bassett Stevenson place a wreath at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial in Florida on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.  (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Later on Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Jim Free continued the observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The three laid wreaths at the gravestones and memorial markers for the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews.

"Our annual Day of Remembrance honors the sacrifice of the NASA family who lost their lives in the pursuit of discovery," said Nelson in a statement. "While it is a solemn day, we are forever thankful that our fallen heroes shared their spirt of exploration with NASA, our country, and the world."

"Today, and every day, we embrace NASA's core value of safety as we expand our reach in the cosmos for the benefit of all humanity," he said.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Deputy Chief of Mission for the Embassy of Israel Eliav Benjamin place wreaths at the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial during a ceremony that was part of NASA's Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Image credit: NASA/Keegan Barber)

Joining Nelson, Melroy and Free at Arlington was June Scobee Rodgers, widow of STS-51L commander Dick Scobee; Michael Oldak, former husband of Challenger mission specialist Judy Resnik and Kristy Carroll, a family friend of the late shuttle Columbia astronaut William McCool.

Across the country, NASA's other centers and facilities also held commemorations for their workforce. Employees came together at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and Stennis Space Flight Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to NASA's astronaut corps and Mission Control, marked the day with a T-38 jet flyover, a performance of taps by a squadron from Texas A&M University and a tree dedication for former astronaut Karol "Bo" Bobko, who died in August 2023.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.