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NASA honors fallen astronauts with Day of Remembrance

NASA will pause today (Jan. 27) to remember the lives lost in the pursuit of space exploration, during the agency's annual "Day of Remembrance."

This year's edition coincides with the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire of Jan. 27, 1967. The following six days include two other somber anniversaries: the Challenger shuttle disaster of Jan. 28, 1986 and the Columbia shuttle accident of Feb. 1, 2003. 

The agency plans several livestreamed events of various center commemorations (listed below), along with a panel discussion about safety and lessons learned at 3:30 p.m. EST (2130 GMT). The panel will air live on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Related: NASA's fallen astronauts: a photo memorial

The grave markers of Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee are seen before a wreath laying ceremony that was part of NASA's Day of Remembrance on Feb. 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. (Image credit: Aubrey Gemignani/NASA)

"NASA's Day of Remembrance is an opportunity to honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives in our shared endeavor to advance exploration and discovery for the good of all humanity," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement

"Every day, we have an opportunity to further uplift the legacies of those who gave their lives in pursuit of discovery by taking the next giant leap, meeting every challenge head-on, as they did. In doing so, we also must never forget the lessons learned from each tragedy, and embrace our core value of safety."

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The Apollo 1 crew, from left to right, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom.

The Apollo 1 crew, from left to right, Roger Chaffee, Ed White and Gus Grissom. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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On Jan. 28, 1986, NASA faced its first shuttle disaster, the loss of the Challenger orbiter and its seven-astronaut crew. Here, Challenger's last crew – members of the STS-51L mission – stand in the White Room at Pad 39B following the end of a launch dress rehearsal. They are (L to R) Teacher in Space Participant, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist, Judy Resnik, Commander Dick Scobee. Mission Specialist, Ronald McNair, Pilot, Michael Smith and Mission Specialist, Ellison Onizuka.

On Jan. 28, 1986, NASA faced its first shuttle disaster, the loss of the Challenger orbiter and its seven-astronaut crew. Here, Challenger's last crew – members of the STS-51L mission – stand in the White Room at Pad 39B following the end of a launch dress rehearsal. They are (L to R) Teacher in Space Participant, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist, Judy Resnik, Commander Dick Scobee. Mission Specialist, Ronald McNair, Pilot, Michael Smith and Mission Specialist, Ellison Onizuka. (Image credit: NASA)
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The STS-107 crew. Front from left: Rick Husband William McCool. Standing from left: David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Michael Anderson and Ilan Ramon.

The STS-107 crew. Front from left: Rick Husband William McCool. Standing from left: David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla and Michael Anderson and Ilan Ramon. (Image credit: NASA)

The Apollo 1 fire killed NASA astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White during a launchpad test. The source of the fire was never traced with confidence, but aspects contributing to the problem included poor wiring and an oxygen-rich atmosphere. The astronauts were doing a ground dress rehearsal for the first crewed launch of the Apollo program: an Earth-orbiting mission intended to prepare the system for future missions to the moon.

The Challenger explosion killed seven astronauts a little over two minutes after launch; the technical cause was primarily due to a fault in a booster joint known as an "O-ring." The crew included commander Francis "Dick" Scobee, pilot Mike Smith, mission specialists Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair, and payload specialists Greg Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, who was set to be the first teacher in space. 

The Columbia space shuttle broke apart during reentry due to wing damage sustained by foam falling off a piece of the launch system. The damage affected the shuttle's heat shield. Killed in that tragedy were commander Rick Husband, commander, pilot William McCool, payload commander Michael Anderson, mission specialists David Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon, a payload specialist from the Israeli Space Agency.

Events

Here is a list of Day of Remembrance ceremonies across the country from NASA's official announcement. All events are closed to the public and the media as a safety precaution, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but NASA will provide images from various ceremonies after they conclude.

Kennedy Space Center, Florida

"NASA Kennedy, in partnership with The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, will host a Day of Remembrance ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy's Visitor Complex with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Kennedy Center Deputy Director Kelvin Manning, as well as Astronauts Memorial Foundation President and CEO Thad Altman. The ceremony will livestream at 10 a.m. EST [1500 GMT] on Kennedy's Facebook channel."

Johnson Space Center, Houston

"NASA Johnson will hold a commemoration at the Astronaut Memorial Grove with limited in-person invited guests. The ceremony will feature remarks by Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche, as well as NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik and former Johnson Center Director George Abbey."

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama

"NASA Marshall will observe Day of Remembrance with a prerecorded observance featuring remarks from Marshall Center Director Jody Singer and Bill Hill, director of Marshall’s Office of Safety & Mission Assurance, as well as a moment of silence. The event will appear on Marshall’s YouTube channel and will be shared on the center’s social media account."

Glenn Research Center, Cleveland

"NASA Glenn will observe Day of Remembrance with a virtual observance for Glenn staff only."

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.