Day of Remembrance Honors Those Who Made the 'Ultimate Sacrifice'
On Feb. 1, Kennedy Space Center employees and guests joined others throughout NASA to pay their respects to astronauts who have perished in the conquest of space. Annual Day of Remembrance activities included a ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy's Visitor Complex.
The ceremony included gospel singer BeBe Winans singing the national anthem and his song, "Ultimate Sacrifice," which honors heroes who lost their lives in service to the nation.
The date marked the 10th anniversary of the loss of the seven-member crew of the shuttle Columbia as they were re-entering the atmosphere over east Texas at the conclusion of the STS-107 mission. The ceremony also honored the astronauts of Apollo 1 who died in 1967 and the STS-51L's Challenger crew lost in 1986.
Evelyn Husband-Thompson, widow of STS-107 commander Rick Husband, spoke of the encouragement that has come in the years that followed from those lending support and the honors provided the Columbia crew.
"The human spirit, created by God, has been a strength for me and my family," she said. "To continue the vision our crew embraced . . . multiple scholarships, schools, exhibits, museums, endowment funds and archives have been dedicated to the crew's memory."
Husband-Thompson added that these educational opportunities for future generations will produce scientists, engineers and explorers whose work will benefit all of humankind.
Kennedy's Director Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle commander, emphasized that flight safety will continue to be a paramount concern.
"We must never forget the hard lessons we have learned in the past," he said. "It's important that we pause to remember and reflect. We must do our very best to prevent something like that from ever happening again."
Cabana went on to pledge that exploration beyond Earth will continue.
"We promise to continue your thirst for knowledge, to learn from our mistakes, to rise above our failings, and to one day, lead the way beyond our home planet in our never-ending quest to explore," he said.
Former NASA astronaut Eileen Collins, who commanded Discovery on the STS-114 mission that returned the shuttle program to flight following STS-107, emphasized that risk is a part of any great mission.
"We remember the astronauts who took the daring steps of accepting the challenges of spaceflight," she said.
Collins went on to stress that a desire to explore has always been a part of the human experience.
"I often tell my children what my parents told me," she said. "Generations pass and centuries pass, but people don't change. It seems to me the sense of curiosity in people doesn't change. We still have it. Sure, our environment changes, technology changes, but people are still human. We still carry the spirit of adventure."
During the observance, a wreath was placed at the Space Mirror Memorial by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier, Husband-Thompson, and Sandra Anderson, widow of Columbia payload commander Michael Anderson.
The ceremony also included a flyover by T-38 jets, piloted by astronauts.
Also participating in the ceremony were state Sen. Thad Altman, president and chief executive officer of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation (AMF); former NASA astronaut Jon McBride, chairman of the AMF board of directors; and Mick Ukleja, chairman of the AMF board of trustees.
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, a private, not-for-profit organization, built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial. The names of the fallen astronauts from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, as well as the astronauts who perished in training and commercial airplane accidents are emblazoned on the monument's 4.5-foot-high-by-50-foot-wide polished black granite surface which reflects the sky. It was dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training and since has been designated a National Memorial by Congress.
On Jan. 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew was aboard their spacecraft at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station's Launch Pad 34 for a preflight test. Astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a fire swept through the command module.
The STS-51L crew of the shuttle Challenger included the first teacher in space participant, Christa McAuliffe. She, along with Francis "Dick" Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair and Gregory Jarvis, perished on Jan. 28, 1986. After lifting off from Launch Pad 39B, the vehicle exploded 73 seconds into the flight.
Columbia's crew members Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli Space Agency astronaut Ilan Ramon -- were lost when the shuttle broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center