On 30th anniversary of Challenger disaster, crews ‘Forever Remembered’
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — One could almost walk past it, after all, the “Forever Remembered” memorial is located on the side of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s $100 million Atlantis exhibit. However, as the date of the 30th anniversary of the loss of the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger’s final mission, STS-51L approaches, it is undoubtedly one of the most important elements of the expansive facility.
‘Forever Remembered‘ encompasses some 2,000 square feet and was established to honor the crews of shuttle missions STS-51L and STS-107 (Shuttle Columbia). The memorial opened to the general public in June of last year (2015).
“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” NASA’s Administrator Charles Bolden said at the memorial’s opening. “It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery, and possibility. It is a story of hope.”
Composed of three distinct segments, Forever Remembered contains what NASA has described as “[…] the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews“, many of which were provided to the Visitor Complex by the crews’ families.
An alcove has been provided for each of the crew members, containing artifacts that reflect their personalities, experiences and beliefs.
After one passes through this portion of the memorial, an even more powerful display awaits them. Two pieces of hardware reside behind glass, allowing the public to see them for the first time since the two spacecraft were lost (Challenger was lost on ascent some 73 seconds into flight on Jan. 28, 1986, with Columbia disintegrating in 2003 just 16 minutes shy of touching down at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida).
For Challenger, part of the orbiter’s fuselage, with the American flag, was the part selected to be placed on display. Columbia is represented by the frame of the shuttle’s windows. The damaged components are a stark reminder that space exploration is still a risky business.
Fourteen astronauts perished with their spacecraft during the two accidents:
Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from New Hampshire.
Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut.
After the loss of Columbia, NASA was directed to retire its fleet of orbiters, with the last mission, STS-135, taking place in the summer of 2011.
Each of the remaining shuttles was then prepared for their new homes at museums and tourist destinations across the nation. (Atlantis at the Visitor Complex in Florida, Endeavour at the California Science Center in California and Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center located in Virginia).
In terms of the Forever Remembered memorial, it holds a special place in particular for one veteran space flyer.
“I think everyone should take [the] time to visit the Forever Remembered exhibit,” Clay Anderson, one of the astronaut family escorts for the STS-107 crew told SpaceFlight Insider. “To turn that corner and see that panel from Challenger and the window from Columbia, was very powerful for me, very emotional for me. I spent many, many minutes in front of the window frame of Columbia thinking of the past times I had enjoyed spending with the crew of STS-107….”
Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider with NASA elements
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.