A commemorative wreath stands in front of the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA / KSC Photo)
NASA highlighted the legacy of astronauts lost in tragic missions including 1967’s Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger’s launch in 1986 and the shuttle Columbia’s breakup in 2003 today — a week later than originally planned due to the partial government shutdown.
The observance was postponed because NASA had to forgo non-essential activities during the 35-day hiatus in funding. A deal was struck to end the shutdown on Jan. 25, but by then NASA had already decided to reschedule. Now another shutdown deadline is looming on Feb. 15.
Nary a word was spoken about the delay, either in NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s remarks or in a written statement from President Donald Trump.
NASA traditionally schedules its Day of Remembrance for a Thursday in late January or early February, in recognition of the dates for its three biggest disasters:Jan. 27 for the Apollo 1 launch-pad fire, causing the deaths of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Jan. 28 for the Challenger’s booster failure and breakup, just 73 seconds after liftoff, which killed Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Ron McNair and teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe. Feb. 1 for the Columbia’s breakup during descent, resulting in the loss of Rick Husband, Willie McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.
Other astronauts who died in the line of duty were memorialized as well, at ceremonies taking place in Arlington National Cemetery, at Kennedy Space Center’s Space Mirror Memorial in Florida and at other NASA centers. Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the White House’s National Space Council, reportedly attended the Arlington ceremony. Flags were flown at half-staff at NASA Headquarters in Washington and at NASA’s other centers around the country.
In his statement, Trump mourned the passing of America’s “fallen astronaut heroes” and vowed to continue their legacy:
“As our nation continues to lead the world in forging a pathway to space, we honor the legacy of these brave men and women. We vow to continue building the bold future they envisioned for all of humanity on this Earth and beyond. Though our friends, colleagues, and family members have left this Earth, they will always be with us as we journey among the stars.”
Bridenstine, meanwhile, said that “the invaluable lessons from our past, and our determination to pay tribute to our crews’ achievements, continue to shape our path forward” — and noted that there will soon be “another way to honor and learn from the tragedies we have faced”:
“In April, NASA’s Apollo Challenger Columbia Lessons Learned Program, in partnership with the Office of Chief Engineer and Academy of Program/Project and Engineering Leadership, will launch the Space Shuttle Columbia National Tour at the Kennedy Space Center. For the first time ever in this format, artifacts of the space shuttle Columbia will tour our NASA centers across the country on a new mission to inspire, engage and educate. It is the heartfelt goal of this tour to pay tribute and honor each of our fallen crews by sharing their stories and what we have learned from them so that a whole new generation of leaders and explorers can stand on their shoulders.”
Here are some of today’s tweeted tributes: