Space Coast community reflects on fallen astronauts
For the third time this week, residents and visitors to Florida’s Brevard County gathered to pay their respects to the fallen heroes of the U.S. Space Program, astronauts who lost their lives while performing mission-related duties. Beginning with a chorus from the children of the Sculptor Charter School Choir, the 11:00 a.m. EST Saturday morning service got underway with about 100 residents, visitors, and dignitaries present.
Some of these included present and former Cape workers, many visiting mayors from the region as well as former NASA astronaut Gregory “Box” Johnson. Held in Sand Point Park, the service ran for approximately an hour.
Setting the Saturday ceremony apart from Wednesday’s Apollo One memorial and Thursday’s NASA Day of Remembrance service was the notably more-pleasant weather. With sunny skies, low winds, and only scattered clouds, this was the first of the three celebrations that could reasonably proceed outdoors, in its originally planned location. Taking full advantage of this, service organizers were able to proceed with a trooping of the Colors, the firing of a three-round salute by the Honor Guard, the sounding of the bugle, and a fly-past of jet aircraft.
In addition to the Mayor of Titusville, James H. Tulley, Jr., sharing his condolences and statement on behalf of the city, the presentation also included an impactful and emotional presentation from Col. Johnson, who last flew as a part of the seven-person crew on the next-to-last flight of the Space Shuttle program, STS-134.
Taking the time to name and reflect briefly on each of the 17 crew members being honored at the ceremony, he drew his heaviest breaths while sharing his personal memories of training alongside, working with and enjoying personal, joint-family experiences with members of the final crew of Columbia, STS-107.
As is customary during Titusville’s annual memorial service, flowers were placed one at a time by various guests and dignitaries on 17 engraved memorial plaques, one for each of the lost astronauts.
Honoring Gus Grissom, a memorial carnation was placed by the former Deputy Commander of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Lt. Col. (USAF, Retired) Johnny Johnson. Having been selected and posted to the role of Deputy Commander just 6 days after the loss of Challenger, Johnson was tasked with organizing and executing the difficult search and recovery mission for the remains the STS-51L just off the shores of Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39.
Volunteering as a member of the Board of Directors for the Apollo One Memorial Foundation, Johnson works with the registered non-profit organization to preserve the legacy of the Apollo One crew, promoting education, awareness, and reflection about the tragedy, and by enabling a living legacy in the names of Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee through the presentation of an annual student Scholarship.
Following the ceremony, members of the public were invited to visit the plaques and to leave their own messages or private mementos; in short order, Christa McAuliffe’s memorial was piled high with letters, notes, and drawings from school children, with an honorary apple also being left for the first member of the Teachers in Space program.
On Feb. 1, thirteen years will have passed since the loss of Columbia and the crew of STS-107. During this period every year, officials, elected representatives, and private citizens pause to reflect on the loss of the three crews. It has been 49 years since a fire at Launch Complex 34 cost the crew of Apollo 1 their lives and thirty years since the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger.
Sean Costello is a technology professional who also researches, writes about and speaks publicly on the inspiring lessons within international space flight program. Prior to joining SpaceFlight Insider in early 2014, Costello was a freelance photographer and correspondent covering shuttle-era Kennedy Space Center launches for various radio and print news organizations.