Every year, the NASA family takes a day to reflect on the sacrifices made by the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia missions, and all brave women and men of our ranks who lost their lives in pursuit of our nation’s goal of advancing humanity to new frontiers.
Thirty-five years ago today, NASA and the nation lost seven of our family in a moment that left a timestamp on American history – a “Where were you when…” moment created only when the shared dreams and values of a nation collide with shared grief..
The space shuttle Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center on its 10th flight, a seven-day mission dubbed STS-51L, and exploded 73 seconds into flight. The accident claimed the lives of all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, who was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first participant in the NASA Teacher in Space Project.
Every employee at NASA has, at one time or another, heard the expression, “Space is hard.” These three words describe the challenges we endeavor to meet every day. Space exploration is one of the most complex endeavors undertaken by humanity and space itself is unforgiving – but we persevere. In saying “Space is hard,” we acknowledge these challenges, we commit ourselves to learning from failure and tragedy, and we declare our intention to move forward.
As we work to achieve our goals of putting the first woman and next man on the Moon and send the first humans to Mars, let us pause for a moment to remember the seven heroes of the Challenger mission who made NASA better and stronger.
Steve Jurczyk Acting Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Image Credit: NASA
On Jan. 27, 1967, veteran astronaut Gus Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White, and rookie Roger Chaffee were sitting atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule.
The investigation into the fatal accident led to major design and engineering changes, making the Apollo spacecraft safer for the coming journeys to the Moon.
Apollo 1 Crew (l-r): Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White, Roger B. Chaffee
Image Credit: NASA
Just 73 seconds after launch on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, a booster engine failed and caused the shuttle Challenger to break apart, taking the lives of all seven crewmembers.
President Ronald Reagan eulogized the crew, quoting from John Gillespie Magee’s poem High Flight: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.' "
STS-51L Crew (l-r): Mission Specialist Ellison S. Onizuka, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Payload Specialist Christa McAuliffe, Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis, Mission Specialist Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist Ronald E. McNair
Image Credit: NASA
The seven-member crew of the STS-107 mission was just 16 minutes from landing on the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, when Mission Control lost contact with the shuttle Columbia. A piece of foam, falling from the external tank during launch, had opened a hole in one of the shuttle's wings, leading to the breakup of the orbiter upon re-entry.
Addressing the nation, President Bush said, "mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."
STS-107 Crew (l-r): Mission Specialist 1 David M. Brown, Commander Rick D. Husband, Mission Specialist 4 Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist 2 Kalpana Chawla, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Specialist 1 Ilan Ramon
Image Credit: NASA