Remembrance Week Pays Tribute to NASA’s Three Fallen Astronaut Crews

Today, Feb. 1, concludes the most somber week in NASA history as we remember the fallen astronauts who gave their lives exploring space so that others could reach to the stars – venturing further than ever before!

In the span of a week and many years apart three crews of American astronauts made the ultimate sacrifice and have perished since 1967. Heroes all ! – They believed that the exploration of space was worth risking their lives for the benefit of all mankind.

Apollo 1 memorial 1/27/2015. We start a week of remembrances on the 'Space Coast', years apart but so close together.  Credit: Julian Leek
Apollo 1 memorial 1/27/2015. We start a week of remembrances on the ‘Space Coast’, years apart but so close together. Words/Credit: Julian Leek

On Jan. 28, NASA paid tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, as well as other NASA colleagues, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance. Over the past week, additional remembrance ceremonies were held in many venues across the country.

“NASA’s Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery,” said a NASA statement.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and other agency senior officials held an observance and wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Jan. 28.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Alexis lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

“Today we remember and give thanks for the lives and contributions of those who gave all trying to push the boundaries of human achievement. On the solemn occasion, we pause in our normal routines and remember the STS-107 Columbia crew; the STS-51L Challenger crew; the Apollo 1 crew; Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program as he piloted the X-15 No. 3 on a research flight; and those lost in test flights and aeronautics research throughout our history,” said Bolden.

“Let us join together … in paying our respects, and honoring the memories of our dear friends. They will never be forgotten. Godspeed to every one of them.”

12 years ago today on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia suddenly and unexpectedly disintegrated over the skies of Texas during the fiery reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere at the conclusion of the STS-107 science mission. All aboard were lost: Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, and Ilan Ramon.

STS-107 crew of Space Shuttle Columbia
STS-107 crew of Space Shuttle Columbia

Jan. 28 marked the 29th anniversary of the Challenger disaster on the STS-51L mission when it suddenly broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff in 1986. The entire seven person crew were killed; including Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Judy Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, and the first “Teacher in Space” Christa McAuliffe.

STS-51L crew of Space Shuttle Challenger
STS-51L crew of Space Shuttle Challenger

Jan. 27 marks the 48th anniversary of the first of the three disasters when a horrendous cockpit fire at Launch Complex 34 in 1967 killed the Apollo 1 crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee during a training exercise in the capsule.

Apollo 1 Crew
Apollo 1 Crew

Launch Complex 34 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida was never used again for a launch and the ruins stand as a stark memorial to the crew of Apollo 1.

An observance was also held on Jan. 28 at the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

The Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center honors all astronauts who perished during their service to the agency. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
The Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center honors all astronauts who perished during their service to the agency. Photo Credit: Talia Landman/AmericaSpace
Deeply humbled to put a rose on Christa McAuliffe's plaque at the Astronaut Memorial Ceremony today 1/28/15.  A little something extra...from one educator to another. Words/Credit: Sarah McNulty
Deeply humbled to put a rose on Christa McAuliffe’s plaque at the Astronaut Memorial Ceremony today 1/28/15. A little something extra…from one educator to another. Words/Credit: Sarah McNulty

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station (ISS), the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

There are numerous memorials to the fallen crews. Among them are the tribute plaques to all five space shuttle orbiters that were the brainchild of the Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

The five orbiter plaques were mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4, above the Shuttle countdown clock at the Launch Control Center of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The plaques for Columbia and Challenger, the first two shuttles built, include the crew portraits from STS-107 and STS-51L.

Memorial displays to all five Space Shuttle Orbiters mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4 - above the Shuttle countdown clock. These tribute displays highlight and honor the significant achievements from the actual space voyages of the individual Orbiters launched from the Kennedy Space Center over three decades –starting with STS-1 in 1981. Shuttle mission patches since the return to flight in 2005 are mounted below the tribute displays. Click to enlarge. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.
Memorial displays to all five Space Shuttle Orbiters mounted inside the Space Shuttle Firing Room #4 – above the Shuttle countdown clock. These tribute displays highlight and honor the significant achievements from the actual space voyages of the individual Orbiters launched from the Kennedy Space Center over three decades –starting with STS-1 in 1981. Shuttle mission patches since the return to flight in 2005 are mounted below the tribute displays. Click to enlarge. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The Dignity Memorial to fallen astronauts at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The Dignity Memorial to fallen astronauts at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
Statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

From One Laurel to Another: a Letter from Columbia

STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark (NASA)

On this Day of Remembrance, February 1, 2013, NASA will mark the 10th anniversary of the STS-107 Columbia accident with a wreath-laying ceremony at the astronaut memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, paying tribute to the lost crews of Columbia, Challenger and Apollo 1, as well as other space explorers and NASA colleagues who have passed on. Most of us have our own personal memories of the tragic events that took the lives of these brave few who risked everything in the name of exploration, knowledge, and discovery, and I’ve agreed to share one person’s connection to the Columbia crew.

Laurel Nendza, a fellow space blogger over on that social media site that begins with F and rhymes with “acebook” has a particular connection with STS-107 Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark… if only that they both love space and share the same first name. Still, it’s enough to hang one’s heart on, and Laurel (the blogger) recently posted a particularly touching note that was sent by Laurel (the astronaut) to her family just before Columbia headed back on its ill-fated return trip home. Here’s Laurel’s (and Laurel’s) story:

On February 1, 2003, the seven [STS-107] crew members were lost with the Space Shuttle Columbia over North Texas during the shuttle’s re-entry. They were brave men and women who gave their lives for space exploration.

s107e05167One member has always stood out to me. Her name was Laurel Clark. She would probably agree that growing up there were never any other Laurels around. She may at one time hated her name like I did, only to realize she was actually cool and unique because she was the only one around with that name. But Laurel is not just a name, it’s a personality trait. I know a handful of Laurels (mostly from Facebook) and we all seem to have the same things in common. Most of us always have had deep compassion for animals, the Earth, and the sky above us. Laurel Clark was no different.

What was different about Laurel Clark is that she was just a handful of people on Earth, EVER, who actually achieved what we all dream. She was an astronaut and got to go to outer space. She had the privilege (that she worked very hard to get) to witness our pale blue dot from above as well as breathtaking auroras, lightning, and the Sun and Moon rising.

Before she departed to her last shuttle flight home she sent an email to her family and close friends. She told them of every incredible, awe-inspiring moment she had been a part of. She and the other 6 members who perished in the Columbia tragedy are true heroes and inspirations to all who came after her. They are my inspiration. My dream is to also be able to see my beautiful planet from above, and to see the stars shine bright in all their glory.

s107e05006She was the first Laurel in space, who knows? Maybe one day I will be the next?

Rest in peace all the brave crew of the Shuttle Columbia.

Below is Laurel Clark’s last message to her loved ones on Earth:

“Hello from above our magnificent planet Earth. The perspective is truly awe-inspiring. This is a terrific mission and we are very busy doing science round the clock. Just getting a moment to type e-mail is precious so this will be short, and distributed to many who I know and love.

I have seen some incredible sights: lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australis lighting up the entire visible horizon with the cityglow of Australia below, the crescent moon setting over the limb of the Earth, the vast plains of Africa and the dunes on Cape Horn, rivers breaking through tall mountain passes, the scars of humanity, the continuous line of life extending from North America, through Central America and into South America, a crescent moon setting over the limb of our blue planet. Mount Fuji looks life a small bump from up here, but it does stand out as a very distinct landmark.

Magically, the very first day we flew over Lake Michigan and I saw Wind Point (Wisconsin) clearly. Haven’t been so lucky since. Every orbit we go over a slightly different part of the Earth. Of course, much of the time I’m working back in Spacehab and don’t see any of it. Whenever I do get to look out, it is glorious. Even the stars have a special brightness.

I have seen my ‘friend’ Orion several times. Taking photos of the earth is a real challenge, but a steep learning curve. I think I have finally gotten some beautiful shots the last 2 days. Keeping my fingers crossed that they’re in sharp focus.

My near vision has gotten a little worse up here so you may have seen pics/video of me wearing glasses. I feel blessed to be here representing our country and carrying out the research of scientists around the world. All of the experiments have accomplished most of their goals despite the inevitable hiccups that occur when such a complicated undertaking is undertaken. Some experiments have even done extra science. A few are finished and one is just getting started today.

s107e05745

Astronaut Laurel B. Clark, STS-107 mission specialist, conducting a check of the YSTRES experiment in the Biopack incubator. Astronaut Rick D. Husband, mission commander, holds a vacuum cleaner to perform general housekeeping duties on the middeck of the Space Shuttle Columbia. (NASA)

The food is great and I am feeling very comfortable in this new, totally different environment. It still takes a while to eat as gravity doesn’t help pull food down your oesophagus. It is also a constant challenge to stay adequately hydrated. Since our body fluids are shifted toward our heads our sense of thirst is almost non-existent.

Thanks to many of you who have supported me and my adventures throughout the years. This was definitely one to beat all. I hope you could feel the positive energy that beamed to the whole planet as we glided over our shared planet.

Love to all, Laurel.”

You can find out more about Laurel Clark and the other STS-107 crew members on the NASA History site here.

Crew walkout for STS107 Credit; Scott Andrews/NASA

The STS-107 crew, waving to onlookers, exited the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Launch Pad 39A for liftoff on Jan. 16, 2003. Leading the way were Pilot William “Willie” McCool (left) and Commander Rick Husband (right). Following in the second row are Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla (left) and Laurel Clark; in the rear are Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Payload Commander Michael Anderson and Mission Specialist David Brown. All seven perished during re-entry breakup two weeks later on Feb. 1, 2003. (NASA)

See more of Laurel Nendza’s posts on her Facebook page, Stellar Eyes.

At 10 a.m. EST on Feb. 1, NASA TV will provide live coverage of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial located in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Flags across the agency will be flown at half-staff memory of the Columbia crew and all who have lost their lives in dedication of space exploration.