Today, NASA remembers their fallen astronauts on their annual “Day of Remembrance,” which falls on the 10th anniversary of the Columbia disaster in 2003. While NASA has the the highest safety record for manned space flight in the history of the world, the program has not been without tragedy. I recently highlighted the 27th anniversary of the Challenger Explosion that took the lives of all seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first and only participant in NASA’s Teacher in Space Project (cancelled in 1990 as a result of the tragedy).
The first astronaut tragedy to hit NASA was the ill-fated Apollo 1 in 1967. Originally intended to be the first manned mission to the moon, a fire during the launch pad test resulted in the deaths of all three crew members. Manned lunar launches were delayed only briefly as the United States government was embroiled in the Space Race against the Soviet Union.
While there would be other fatalities in training scenarios and frightening close calls (the Apollo 13 mission, for example, very nearly ended in tragedy but the swift thinking of its crew and NASA engineers resulted in a Hollywood-style happy ending) NASA’s space program would continue for nearly 20 years without incident until the Challenger explosion in 1986. Many believed that the explosion of the Challenger at launch would be the death knell for NASA, but after a few years space exploration continued and the program endured.
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry over Texas and Louisiana. Subsequent testing and examination indicated that pilot error had caused the tragedy. All seven crew members (5 Americans, 1 Israeli astronaut, and 1 Indian astronaut) were killed. The world community mourned the loss of these scientists.
Today, on the anniversary of the tragedy, American and NASA remembers all of the astronauts who gave their lives in our endeavor to explore beyond our own atmosphere. While their tragedy touches us all, their legacy endures. NASA, still battling funding cuts, intends to reinstitute manned flights to space in a few years.
For a list of all space-flight related fatalities, see this article on Wikipedia (note that while the USSR has some names reported, historians and political scientists agree that the number of cosmonauts killed in space travel has been vastly and drastically underreported).
For more information on Columbia Disaster, see: