NASA’s 2019 Day of Remembrance Was Postponed, but Remembrances Continue Nonetheless

NASA’s 2019 Day of Remembrance Was Postponed, but Remembrances Continue Nonetheless

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced last week that the annual Day of Remembrance honoring fallen astronauts would have to be postponed because of the partial government shutdown.  Today is the first of the three anniversaries of tragedies that befell the U.S. human spaceflight program — the Apollo 1 fire — that form the basis of the observance.  Bridenstine and others are remembering the Apollo crew on social media.

The shutdown, which included NASA, ended on Friday after a record-setting 35 days.  Last week, with no end in sight, Bridenstine sent a letter to NASA employees explaining that he was postponing this year’s Day of Remembrance until the NASA family could be together again.  The three tragedies took place years apart, but on days that are close together — January 27, January 28, and February 1 — and the annual observance takes place around that time.

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.

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



The second tragedy was on January 28, 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger was torn apart by aerodynamic forces 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

Another space shuttle mission, STS-107 aboard Columbia, ended tragically 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.  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.

Traditionally events are held at the Astronauts Memorial Foundation Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and at Arlington National Cemetery where some of the astronauts are buried and memorials are in place for the Challenger and Columbia crews.  The FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act started a process to build a memorial to the Apollo 1 crew at Arlington as well.  The provision was sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), now the chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (she was Ranking Member at the time).

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