NASA’s Toughest Week

Every year, NASA has a Day of Remembrance during this—its toughest—week.




On January 27, 1967, during a ground test of Apollo 1, a fire broke out. All three astronauts inside the spacecraft died.

On January 28, 1986, just 73 seconds into its 25th flight, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart and fell in pieces to the ocean below. All seven astronauts inside the crew compartment died.

On February 1, 2003, during re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere toward the end of its 10th mission, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart and fell in pieces over the southern United States. All seven astronauts perished.

We wrote about this week last year HERE and in 2011 HERE.

We say, in those posts, the most disheartening thing about these accidents is that they were waiting to happen, that, particularly in the cases of the shuttle accidents, specific concerns had been raised about the problems that ended up causing the accidents.

We say there that the most horrific information to emerge about these accidents is that the astronauts’ deaths were not instantaneous.

We also talk about some of the good projects that emerged in the wake of these events, that commemorate the dedication of these astronauts and their belief in science and space exploration as important in this world and beyond it.

In those posts, we posted photographs of the crews and video. And we hope readers will go back to look at those posts this week. Here, we’ll turn to some of the words of the astronauts themselves.

Only days before his death inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft, Gus Grissom finished drafting his book Gemini: A Personal Account of Man’s Venture into Space. There, he wrote:

The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.

Christa McAuliffe, the teacher aboard Challenger that cold day at the beginning of 1986 said of herself:

This ordinary person is contributing to history.

Of students that she hoped to reach during the mission, she said in that same interview:

If they can make that connection [that ordinary people make history], then they’re going to get excited about history, they’re going to get excited about the future, they’re going to get excited about space.

Judy Resnick, who was also on the ill-fated Challenger flight, said the following:

I want to do everything there is to be done.

Thirty-seven pages of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s personal diary survived the fall to the ground when Columbia broke apart. On the sixth day of that mission, Ramon wrote:

I turned out to be a man who lives and works in space, just like in the movies.

Kalpana Chawla said in an interview before that doomed mission:

It’s easy for me to be motivated and inspired by seeing somebody who just goes all out to do something.

Last year, on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, President Obama said the following:

Each year, on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, we honor the crew of that Columbia flight, as well as those of Challenger and Apollo 1, and all the members of the NASA family who gave their lives in the pursuit of expanding our Nation’s horizons in space-a cause worthy of their sacrifice and one we must never forget.

And then he said that we’ll “eventually put Americans on Mars.”


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