Challenger and Columbia Crews Memorialized in Emotional New “Forever Remembered” Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

An iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag (left) and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia (right) are part of a new, permanent memorial, “Forever Remembered,” that opened on June 27, 2015 in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida – featuring shuttle hardware and personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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NASA’s two lost Shuttle crews from the searing Challenger and Columbia accidents are now memorialized in the newly opened, permanent and highly emotional “Forever Remembered” tribute display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute was officially opened by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both veteran shuttle astronauts, at a very special and moving small private NASA ceremony attended by families of the 14 fallen crew members and invited members of the media including Universe Today on June 27, 2015.

“I believe that it’s important to share this story with everyone, and not just push it aside, or try to hide it,” Cabana said at the ceremony, as tears welled up in everyone present.

The shuttle tribute is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and features shuttle orbiter hardware recovered from both the Challenger STS-51L and Columbia STS-107 accidents, as well as personal crew items from all 14 courageous astronauts who lost their lives – items never before on display for viewing by the public.

The 2000 square foot exhibit features an iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger emblazoned with the American flag and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia, that are part of the permanent “Forever Remembered” memorial that opened on June 27, 2015 – see photo above.

It also holds the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews in individual displays about the 14 crew members in a hallway that leads to a plaque with a quote from U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave,” said President Ronald Reagan in remarks to the nation in mourning shortly after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial  to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The “Forever Remembered” display was conceived in private by a very small circle spearheaded by Cabana and unknown by outsiders until the day it was formally opened. It completes the display inside the Atlantis pavilion, which commemorates NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Program that flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011 with the reusable delta-winged vehicles that “captivated a generation.”

It is intended to be an emotional experience and “designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past” and the tragic consequences. This will enable safer flights in the future and fortify the spirit of never giving up on the exploration of space.

“The tragedies galvanized the agency to learn from these painful events, not only to safely return the shuttle fleet to flight, but to help assure the safety of future explorers,” NASA said in a statement.

Several dozen family members attended the tearful, heartfelt opening ceremony of “Forever Remembered” with very emotional remarks from Cabana and Bolden.

“These crews and these vehicles are part of who we are as an agency, and a nation. They tell the story of our never ending quest to explore, and our undying spirit to never give up,” Cabana stated at the ceremony.

Columbia and Challenger were the nation’s first two orbiters to be built. Columbia launched on the maiden space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981 on what is revered by many as the “boldest test flight in history” with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.

“When I look into those windows, I see John Young and Bob Crippen preparing to launch on the boldest test flight in history, the first flight of America’s space shuttle, Columbia,” Cabana added.

“I see a much younger Bob Cabana launching to space on his first command, and I see Rick and Willie and the rest of the 107 crew smiling and experiencing the wonders of space on the final flight of Columbia.”

The idea to create a permanent memorial originated with a team led by Bob Cabana, and approved by Charlie Bolden only after every one of the astronauts families were in complete and unqualified agreement that this tribute display was the right thing to do in memory of their loved ones, tragically lost during the in flight accidents in 1986 and 2003.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” Bolden said at the ceremony.

“It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Junwe 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The wives of the two shuttle commanders, shared their thoughts on the new exhibit:

“It’s a beautiful remembrance of all the shuttles, with the marvelous display of Atlantis. Nothing compares to it in the world,” said June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Dick Scobee, commanded Challenger on STS-51L, in a statement.

“But Challenger and Columbia are not forgotten, and they’re well represented.”

“I knew it would be very emotional to see, but honestly, I didn’t expect to be so impacted by it. I just can’t stop thinking about it. As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107.

Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a NASA description of both the Columbia and Challenger accidents and crews:

“Temperatures at Kennedy Space Center were just a few degrees above freezing on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, as Challenger lifted off on its 10th mission, STS-51L. One minute and 13 seconds into the flight, a booster failure caused an explosion that destroyed the vehicle, resulting in the loss of the crew of seven astronauts: Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher.”

“Seventeen years later, on Jan. 16, 2003, NASA’s flagship orbiter Columbia thundered into orbit on STS-107, a 16-day science mission. On board were Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. On Feb. 1, 2003, the orbiter broke apart in the skies above east Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a planned landing at Kennedy. Seven more lives were lost.”

“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station, 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.

Read more about both fallen shuttle crews and the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a launch pad accident in January 1967 in my tribute story posted here during NASA’s solemn week of remembrance in January.

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after launch on June 28, 2015 is a reminder that space flight is never easy or routine. Starting sometime in 2017, astronauts will launch to the ISS in a crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9. It will be equipped with a launch abort system that the shuttles never had, in case of a launch emergency.

I urge everyone to visit this hallowed “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to benefit all of us in the quest for new knowledge of the boundless expanse of space leading to new discoveries we cannot fathom today.

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

Ken Kremer

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

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