NASA Honors Those Lost in Pursuit of Space Exploration

Guests to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex attached flowers to the fence outside of the Space Mirror Memorial to honor those that died in the pursuit of space exploration. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – Collected members of the NASA family held a “Day of Remembrance” on Thursday, Jan. 26 to mark the loss of the crews of Apollo 1, STS-51L and STS-107. Each of these accidents, although separated by years, all occurred between Jan. 27 and Feb.1. 

  • Jan. 27, 1967. During a “plugs-out” test at Launch Complex 34, a fire broke out in the Apollo 1 spacecraft – killing all three crew members. Veteran Mercury and Gemini astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, the first U.S. astronaut to conduct a spacewalk and rookie astronaut Roger Chaffee – perished in a blaze that broke out in the capsule.
  • Jan. 28, 1986. On an unusually cold Florida morning, space shuttle Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex-39B. Within 73 seconds the orbiter’s external tank, punctured by hot exhaust gases emanating from one of the two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) attached to the stack – exploded. The crew of seven, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe lost their lives in one of the worst disasters in the space agency’s history.
  • Feb. 1, 2003. Space shuttle Columbia and her crew of seven were lost on reentering the Earth’s atmosphere after a successful 16-day mission. A piece of foam, about the size of a suitcase, broke off the shuttle’s external tank and punctured the leading edge of Columbia’s left wing. Upon reentry, super-heated plasma entered into the wing. This led to the disintegration of the orbiter. The crew was comprised of Rick Husband, William McCool, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel Clark and David M. Brown.


Video courtesy of AmericaSpace

The Day of Remembrance was held at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Space Mirror Memorial – which has the names of the 24 astronauts that lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. While the names of the space-flyers that perished on the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia accidents are well known – others are not. Those also included on the Space Mirror Memorial are:

  • Theodore Freeman, died in 1964 when his T-38 jet crashed during training.
  • Elliot See and Charles Bassett Jr. both died when their T-38 jet crashed in 1966.
  • Michael J. Adams lost his life when his X-15 spaceplane crashed in 1967. Although not a NASA recruit, he was awarded the astronaut wings and was therefore included on the memorial.
  • Robert H. Lawrence Jr. died in the crash of his F-104 Starfighter in 1967.
  • Clifton Williams lost his life in a T-38 crash in 1967.
  • M.L. “Sonny” Carter died on Apr. 5, 1991 when Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 2311 crashed. Carter had already flown on one space shuttle mission, STS-33 and was training for STS-42 when the accident occurred. 


Video courtesy of AmericaSpace

Kennedy Center Director and former shuttle astronaut Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center’s Deputy Director Janet Petro and Mark Nappi, head of United Space Alliance’s Florida operations conducted the wreath laying at 10:30 a.m. EST. 

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex provided flowers for guests in attendance to place at the memorial. NASA contractors and civil servants were also encouraged to stop by the Visitor Complex to pay their respects.

After the Columbia accident in 2003, the NASA Administrator at the time, Sean O’Keefe designated the last Thursday in the month of January as a “Day of Remembrance.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden bows his head after lying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Similar events were held at locations across the nation. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Both Bolden and President Barack Obama issued statements regarding the Day of Remembrance. 

The Space Memorial Mirror is maintained by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that dedicated the large, black mirror in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives either  on missions or while training. The landmark was designated a National Memorial by Congress. The Astronaut Memorial Foundation is funded by revenue generated by vehicle registration plates which bears the image of a space shuttle and the names Challenger and Columbia.

The Space Mirror Memorial is located at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and is maintained by the Astronaut Memorial Foundation. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/
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