Honoring the Fallen

Photo Courtesy: NASA
The Crew of the Challenger’s last Mission STS-51-L, with Teacher in Space, S.C. McAuliffe

Abigail Johnson/Senior Reporter

This past week, the NASA community and supporters mourned and remembered the astronauts who did not survive their missions during their space careers. The Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 are dates that NASA, or any space agency, will avoid when launching humans into orbit. A sequence of tragedies occurred on these dates that have redefined NASA and human space travel across the solar system.

Beginning on Jan. 27, 1967, NASA lost their first crew of astronauts. However, these astronauts had not even started their mission before they met their fate. Early that morning, the Apollo 1 crew was prepping for their upcoming launch, running a “dress rehearsal” as NASA employees describe. Already inside, young Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were locked in and practicing preflight procedures. Both Grissom and White had previously been to space while Chaffee was new to the astronaut program. During the preflight, the capsule unexpectedly caught fire, causing the closed door to expand even tighter to the hatch frame. This made it impossible for the astronauts to escape through the hatch and caused their deaths in the very seats that would have taken them to the stars.

In 1986, NASA saw their next disaster midflight on the morning of Jan. 28. The Challenger STS (Space Transport System) was claimed not ready to launch during preflight procedures due to the cold temperature. NASA got the “go for launch” command and proceeded for the launch. Only a little more than a minute into the flight, one of the Solid Rocket Booster’s lost an O-ring needed for successful flight. The STS came apart instantly and caused an explosion that sent the crew inside the orbiter into the ocean, killing them on impact.

Feb. 1, 2018, marked the 15th anniversary of the Columbia accident. Two weeks prior, someone discovered that a foam tile was missing on the wing from the Columbia orbiter on a film of the launch. The crew did not realize what had happened during flight, but NASA was fully aware of the incident, deciding not to make the problem aware. The lack of foam tile caused the wing of the Columbia to melt during reentry. An explosion occurred and killed the crew before they could safely return to the ground.

There is a lot we can learn from the effects of these tragedies on the world and how the future of space travel has been affected by these events.