HUNTSVILLE Ala. -- Thursday, NASA and the country remembered those who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. This year's "Day of Remembrance" was originally scheduled for January 31st, but was postponed because of the partial government shutdown going on at the time.
The NASA Marshall Space Flight Center held a candle lighting ceremony in honor of the faces of the men and women who lost their lives in the three U.S spaceflight tragedies; Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.
"When you look at all of our fallen soldiers, you know they had families, they had friends, they had team members that they also never got to return to," said Jody Singer, the Director NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "So when you think about what they did, their courage, we cannot let their courage be forgotten, nor what they did taken lightly."
Marshall joined NASA field centers across the country to pay tribute to the fallen heroes. Former NASA astronaut Jan Davis said Remembrance Day is not just to remember their deaths, but also their extraordinary lives.
"We astronauts are willing to take the risk is because to grow to have benefits, to do things better not only for our country but the earth, people in general," Davis said. "To explore and to push those boundaries. I mean that's how our country was discovered, that's how we have aviation, that's how we have done a lot of things is by people taking risk."
She said the tragedies we remember today forever changed the space program, and continue to influence future exploration.
"I think all of the astronauts, whether they are with us today or not, would be very excited about the Space Launch System, and going further than any person has ever gone from this earth," Davis said. "And of course, it's a stepping stone to going to have humans on Mars. Which they would probably all raise their hand and want to because we love to explore, we love to learn, we love to serve our country."
The ceremony at Marshall joined others across the country in remembering the fallen heroes. NASA administrators led an observance at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and a wreath-laying ceremony was held a the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On January 27th, 1967 the Apollo 1 tragedy struck on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy during a preflight test for Apollo 204. Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a fire swept through the command module during a countdown rehearsal.
The deaths hit hard in Huntsville, where Wernher von Braun's team of German scientists were leading America's race to the moon.
The city named schools for each astronaut who died that day: Grissom High School, Ed White Middle School, and Chaffee Elementary School.
Alabama played a critical role in the investigation that followed the disaster. The fire led to major design and engineering modifications, and revisions to tests, procedures, and quality control.
Marshall Space flight Center's then associate director called Apollo 1 a "terrible price to pay for an awakening."
Space Shuttle Challenger
The highly anticipated Jan. 28, 1986, launch of Space Shuttle Challenger was watched live by many around the nation, but 73 seconds after takeoff, the shuttle erupted in a fireball that killed the entire crew.
Five NASA astronauts; Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair, a payload specialist, Greg Jarvis, and a New Hampshire schoolteacher flying as a Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, died when an “O-ring” failed due to very cold weather at the launch site.
In Huntsville, McNair Junior High School was named for Ronald McNair, the second African-American astronaut in space, who was killed in the explosion. Challenger Elementary and Middle School were also named in honor of the astronauts.
Space Shuttle Columbia
On February 1, 2003, following a 16-day science mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart as it was returning home, killing the entire crew. U.S. astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon were killed in the explosion.
The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first reusable spacecraft and the oldest in the shuttle fleet. It completed 27 missions.
The Columbia accident investigation board determined that the cause of the accident was a piece of insulating foam that broke off and struck a hole in the leading edge of the left wing less than two minutes into the flight.
Columbia High School in Huntsville was named as a memorial to the crew.