25 years ago today, the Challenger shuttle exploded on takeoff, 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew. 25 years ago today, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis were killed in this tragic accident.
I was just a kid when the Challenger accident happened, and I have no real memories of what occurred, unlike the Columbia disaster of 2003. The Challenger flight, STS-51-L would have marked the beginning of the Teacher in Space Project, as Christa McAuliffe was to teach lessons from space.
This project was to inspire students, and the public at large. It was hoped to increase public interest in the space program. Sadly, the loss of the Challenger crew meant the eventual cancellation of the project.
From each of the three major disasters leading to loss of life in NASA history: The Apollo 1 fire on 27 January 1967, the Challenger break up on 28 January 1986, and the Columbia breakup on 1 February 2003, all led to significant changes in safety procedures.
Today, we remember not only those who died on the Challenger, but the three men who died in the Apollo 1 command capsule: Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee. We also remember the crew of the Columbia on it’s final flight: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kaplana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon.
The risks of space exploration are immense. The costs can be greater still. The spirit of exploration lives on today. We should continue to reach for the stars, to strive for excellence. We should not forget those who have paid the price for past successes. Just as the voices from World War 1 have fallen silent one by one, we must not forget the sacrifices of the past. There are astronauts today who were born after the last moon landing, yet they have not forgotten the lessons learned from the past.
The hope is for the future, for advances not yet known. When humanity takes the next giant leap by taking the first steps on Mars, we will do so in memory of those who have given their lives towards this noble quest for knowledge.
NASA’s memorial site for Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia can be found here.