NASA’s 2018 Day of Remembrance Honors Fallen Astronauts

NASA’s 2018 Day of Remembrance Honors Fallen Astronauts

NASA and the Astronauts Memorial Foundation will hold the annual NASA Day of Remembrance today at Arlington National Cemetery and the Space Mirror memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.  The day honors astronauts who died furthering the cause of space exploration and discovery and is held each year around this time, which coincides with the anniversaries of the three major space tragedies of the U.S. space program.

This year is the 15th anniversary of the February 1, 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy.  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.  Superheated gases (plasma) that surround the shuttle during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere entered a hole in the wing that had been 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.

It was the second fatal space shuttle mission.  The first was on January 28, 1986 when Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.  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  Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) failed due to very cold weather at the launch site.  The failure of the O-ring allowed hot gases to escape from the SRB and cause the subsequent failure of the other SRB and the External Tank.  Aerodynamic forces destroyed the orbiter and her crew.

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

The first U.S. space tragedy occurred 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.  Last year was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire and the Day of Remembrance focused on them.

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

Today, Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and other senior NASA officials will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony and other observances at Arlington National Cemetery beginning at 10:25 am ET.  Memorials to the Challenger and Columbia crews already are in place there.  Congress just authorized construction of a memorial to the Apollo 1 crew in the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

At 10:00 am ET, the Astronauts Memorial Foundation will have a program at its Space Mirror memorial at the KSC Visitor Complex.  Among the speakers are KSC Center Director Bob Cabana and former space shuttle commander Eileen Collins. The program this year especially honors Ilan Ramon of the Columbia crew and four astronauts whose names are not as well known publicly because they died before they flew in space or as part of the X-15 program.  Family members will speak on their behalf.

The X-15 was a rocket-powered spaceplane that during some of its 199 flights attained the 50-mile altitude that NASA used at the time to indicate where “space” began.  Eight of the X-15 pilots earned astronaut wings through the program (two of them also joined NASA).  One of those, Michael J. Adams, died in an X-15 crash in 1967 and is among the special honorees today.

The others are NASA astronauts Charles Bassett and Elliott See, who had been assigned to the 1966 Gemini IX mission, but died that year in a T-38 accident, and C.C. Williams, who died in a T-38 accident in 1967.

The schedules for NASA Live and NASA TV do not indicate that they will provide coverage of these events, nor does the Astronauts Memorial Foundation website.  The NASA press release states that video and still images will be available at, but not whether it is live video.

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