The NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida paid tribute last week to astronauts who have died in the line of duty over the year.
The annual NASA Remembrance Day this year paid special tribute to those killed in the fatal Columbia Space Shuttle Mission in 2003, exactly 20 years ago.
The crew of the Columbia included Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who was killed together with his team when a breach in the thermal protection system during reentry into the atmosphere caused the shuttle to break up on February 1, 2003.
Other crew members aboard were mission commander Rick D. Husband, pilot William C. McCool, payload commander Michael P. Anderson, and mission specialists Kalpana Chawla and Laurel B. Clark.
The ceremony was held at the Space Mirror Memorial, a 42-foot-high memorial made of granite that displays the names of those who lost their lives while serving in NASA missions.
As well as the crew of the Columbia, those honored on the memorial include the three crew members killed in the Apollo 1 test launch in 1967 and the seven crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger who died when the space shuttle broke apart just 73 seconds into its flight in 1986.
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the loss of the crew of Columbia during re-entry of STS-107. For some, that seems like a lifetime. For others, it may seem like a moment."Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro.
The ceremony was hosted by the Astronaut Memorial Foundation (AMF) which was founded after the Challenger disaster to honor the sacrifices of fallen astronauts each year, as well as inspire future generations through hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning activities.
“Why do we have a NASA Day of Remembrance?” said Bob Cabana, NASA associate administrator.
“It’s to honor our fallen comrades. But, more importantly, it’s so we do not forget hard lessons learned from Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia. I’m willing to bet that half of the NASA workforce wasn’t here when we launched the last shuttle mission. It is so important that they learn these lessons so that they are not repeated again.”
Lives lost in the pursuit of knowledge
“In a community that frequently commemorates the milestones and achievements made possible through the teamwork and contributions of so many, today is a different kind of observance, a day to recognize and honor those who lost their lives in pursuit of knowledge, and those losses are heavy,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro.
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the loss of the crew of Columbia during re-entry of STS-107,” Petro added. “For some, that seems like a lifetime. For others, it may seem like a moment. But for our agency, it’s a time that lives here in the present–shaping our culture, informing our decisions, and helping us forge the way ahead.”
Following the main ceremony, the chairperson of the Astronaut Memorial Foundation (AMF) Board of Directors Sheryl Chafee placed a wreath in front of the Space Mirror Memorial and invited those in attendance to join in a minute of silence.
Then, the names of the fallen astronauts were read out, with a bell ring accompanying each one. Guests and the general public in attendance were invited to pay their respects by placing flowers on the fence in front of the memorial.
“We take time to pause and reflect, to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, but also to inspire us to future human exploration,” said Thad Altman, AMF president and CEO. “And to remember all those individuals who made all this possible–engineers, astronauts, administrators. We take this opportunity to reflect on our successes and to be inspired for future missions.”