A Day of Remembrance, Not Sorrow, Because "Courage is Contagious"

A Day of Remembrance, Not Sorrow, Because "Courage is Contagious"

Today is NASA’s annual Day of Remembrance in honor of the astronauts who lost their lives in performance of their duties.  The day honors all of them — particularly the crews of the first Apollo mission, the space shuttle Challenger, and the space shuttle Columbia — but since this is the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, it was the focus of this year’s commemorations.  Of the many speeches and missives, two stand out for their positive messages about why these individuals took the risks they did and what it should mean to each of us.

On January 27, 1967, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died when a fire erupted in the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere of their Apollo spacecraft during a pre-launch test at Kennedy Space Center, FL.   They would have been the first crew to launch into space aboard an Apollo spacecraft and hence many refer to this as Apollo 1.  Since it did not leave the ground, however, others call it Apollo 204 or Apollo-Saturn 204, the designation of the spacecraft/launch vehicle combination.

Apollo 1 crew:  Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee.  Photo credit:  NASA

On January 28, 1986, five NASA astronauts (Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair), a payload specialist from Hughes Aircraft (Greg Jarvis) and a New Hampshire schoolteacher flying as a Teacher in Space (Christa McAuliffe) died when an “O-ring” in one of the two space shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters failed due to very cold weather at the launch site.   The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew: from left – front row Mike Smith,  Dick Scobee, Ron McNair; back row, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik. Photo credit:  NASA

On February 1, 2003, six NASA astronauts (Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark) and an Israeli Air Force pilot flying as a payload specialist (Ilan Ramon) died during their return from a 16-day science mission aboard space shuttle Columbia when superheated gases (plasma) that surround the shuttle during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere entered a hole in the wing created during liftoff by foam falling from the External Tank.  The wing deformed and aerodynamic forces tore the shuttle apart.

Space Shuttle Columbia crew:  from left –  David Brown (NASA), Rick Husband (NASA), Laurel Clark (NASA), Kalpana
Chawla (NASA), Michael Anderson (NASA), William McCool (NASA), Ilan
Ramon (Israeli Air Force). Photo credit: NASA.

Many poignant remarks were made today, but two stand out for their positive messages.

Barbara Morgan was Christa McAuliffe’s backup and went through the entire training regimen with her prior to the Challenger launch.   After the accident, Morgan returned to her career as an elementary school teacher in Idaho, but later was selected by NASA as one of three “Educator Astronauts” and flew on a space shuttle mission (STS-118) in 2007.   Morgan spoke today at a ceremony hosted by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation near Kennedy Space Center.  After recounting what she learned from each of the Challenger crew members individually, she spoke of what she learned from them as a team and from their families:

“Courage is contagious.  Courage is shared. Courage is much more than bravery and boldness because courage lives in the heart. Once you weigh the risk and once you decide that to explore and to discover are worth the risk, then you can dream, you can plan, and you can build. And then you train, and you train, and you train, and you train.  So that when the crew launches, they launch ready, with happy hearts, thankful for the opportunity to represent America, happy to represent history and all of humankind as humankind reaches for the stars.”

After the accident, the astronauts’ families created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which has more than 40 learning centers across the country.  The Challenger Center posted a letter today written by Judy Resnik’s 13 year old niece, Jenna Resnik.  Although she never knew her aunt, she writes, many in her family say that she is very much like her.  Jenna Resnik extols people not to focus on the accident and the deaths of her aunt and the other crew members, but to “be positive and focus on the triumph and the memories that are being created every day because of this crew’s legacy.”  She remarks that when she thinks of her aunt and the other Challenger crew members, she focuses on the fact that they “died doing what they absolutely loved most, and that’s more than many people can say.”

Her message to everyone is:  “Go do what you want to do.  Be who you want to be.  Create a life for yourself that you will love with all of your heart, and never lose hope or hesitate to step outside of your comfort zone, because, in the end, the outcome, whatever it may be, is rewarding and leaves you with a good feeling in your heart.  … The sky’s the limit people!…”

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