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NASA marks anniversary of Apollo and space shuttle tragedies

File photo from the wreath laying ceremony during NASA's 2018 Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery. Every year, the agency pays tribute to those lost during Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

File photo from the wreath laying ceremony during NASA’s 2018 Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery. Every year, the agency pays tribute to those lost during Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Each year around the last week of January, NASA pays tribute to those who gave their lives in the quest to explore space, in particular, those from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in an agency 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.”

This year, NASA’s Day of Remembrance is Jan. 27, 2022, which marks 55 years after the Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a fire in the capsule during a pre-launch test.

Nearly two decades later, on Jan. 28, 1986, NASA lost seven astronauts when a failed booster joint caused the breakup of the Space Shuttle Challenger 73 seconds after liftoff. Aboard were Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe.

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew – Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee – was killed when a fire erupted in their capsule during testing. Apollo 1 was originally designated AS-204, but, following the fire, the astronauts' widows requested the mission be remembered as Apollo 1 and following missions would be numbered subsequent to the flight that never made it into space. Credit: NASA

On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee – was killed when a fire erupted in their capsule during testing. Apollo 1 was originally designated AS-204, but, following the fire, the astronauts’ widows requested the mission be remembered as Apollo 1 and following missions would be numbered subsequent to the flight that never made it into space. Credit: NASA

The crew of Challenger's final flight: Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Francis Scobee, Ronald McNair, Mike Smith and Ellison Onizuka. Credit: NASA

The crew of Challenger’s final flight: Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Francis Scobee, Ronald McNair, Mike Smith and Ellison Onizuka. Credit: NASA

The crew of STS-107 from the left (bottom row), Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon. From the left (top row), David Brown, William McCool and Michael Anderson. Credit: NASA

The crew of STS-107 from the left (bottom row), Kalpana Chawla, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon. From the left (top row), David Brown, William McCool and Michael Anderson. Credit: NASA

Seventeen years after that, on Feb. 1, 2003, the seven-person crew of Space Shuttle Columbia — Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon — was lost just 16 minutes from landing after an otherwise successful 16-day research mission in low Earth orbit.

Columbia’s fate was sealed when a piece of foam fell away from the orange external fuel tank during liftoff, striking the leading edge of the orbiter’s left wing and damaging the reinforced carbon-carbon heat shield. The heat from reentry 16 days later was able to spread inside the shuttle’s structure, causing it to break apart primarily over Texas.

According to NASA, Administrator Nelson will lead a traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. This is expected to be followed by observances for the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews.

NASA said Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Bob Cabana will be moderating a panel discussion with agency employees about safety and the lessons learned from these tragedies. It is planned to be aired live on NASA TV at 3:30 p.m. EST (20:30 UTC).

Video courtesy of NASA

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Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.

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