NASA has hosted a Day of Remembrance in memory of the crews of all three spacecraft that had tragic ends at the Astronaut Memorial Foundation’s Center for Space Education at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The event included montages of the fallen astronauts, videos and speakers. Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, stated that every year at this time, NASA remembers all of the brave members that the agency has lost. The fallen astronauts have given everything, they have given the full sacrifice to advance the mission of exploration. The event is especially poignant this year as it marks 50 years since Apollo 1 according to Lightfoot.
Lightfoot said that NASA will never forget Apollo 1 and the agency owes a great debt to the team for what the tragedy taught and the need for continued space exploration. He further stated that the astronauts exemplify the pioneering spirit that helped the agency get to where it is today. NASA builds off that spirit as the agency continues to push humans further into space.
Lightfoot went on to say that the crew of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia will not be forgotten and all the members of the NASA family who have fallen in the line of duty at the agency. A memorial wreath was placed by the families of the fallen astronauts at the Space Mirror Memorial after the ceremony was concluded.
The disasters took place decades apart and in different eras of space exploration. The first was during the race to the moon, the second disaster occurred during the formative years of the Space Shuttle and the third was during the ear of the International Space Station. All three tragedies were preventable.
The Apollo 1 tragedy in 1967, the crew perished when the craft caught fire. Because of the high pressure inside the spacecraft plus the building up of pressure caused by the fire itself, the astronauts could not open the inward opening hatch to escape the doomed spacecraft.
In 1986, the Challenger disaster resulted in the first in-flight fatalities for a In the early part of the Shuttle program, it was well known that the O-rings in the solid rocket boosters easily erodes and fail during launch. On the morning of the launch, the temperature was too cold and the designers of the SRBs, Morton Thiokol and Roger Boisjoly warned of a disaster should they attempt to launch. The spacecraft broke apart after launch after the O-ring on the right SRB failed and burned the strut that fixed it to the external tank.
In 2003 another tragedy struck NASA. This time a foam strike doomed Columbia spacecraft. The problem of falling foam was well known. Communication breakdowns within the agency prevented the concerns of engineers from reaching the Mission Management Team thus causing the disaster as reported in an article by Spaceflight Insider.
A new exhibit will open to the public at the Apollo-Saturn V Center that honors the crew from Apollo 1. The exhibit highlights the lessons that were learned from the tragedy. Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Michael Collins stated that without Apollo 1, it was very likely that they would not have been able to land on the moon as President Kennedy wished by the end of the decade as reported in an article by USA Today.