WASHINGTON – This time every year I remind WTOP readers of the 17 American astronauts who gave their lives in the pursuit of spaceflight. The crews of Apollo 1, Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia were killed on Jan. 27, 1967, Jan. 28, 1986, and Feb. 1, 2003 respectively.
Apollo 1 was on the launch pad in a full dress rehearsal when fire broke out in the Command Module and suffocated Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Challenger was in flight and exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, and Columbia disintegrated on re-entry.
In each instance, the cause of the disaster was found, fixed and, as a result, made the successive flights safer. But we cannot forget that these lessons learned were at the cost of human lives. We have seen how an ocean liner can take lives in this modern age 100-plus years after the sinking of the Titanic.
Spaceflight and space exploration are a risky business. But the rewards of discovery and furthering human knowledge are worth the risk. A new generation of manned spacecraft – Orion< /a> – will need a new generation of astronauts, the new NASA class of 2013, willing to take the risks inherent in their job. We can try to take as much risk as possible out of the equation of manned spaceflight, but it will always be there.
Humanity needs to leave this planet to explore and colonize new worlds in our solar system, and perhaps someday planetary systems orbiting stars other than our Sun. To not do so dooms the fate of humanity to extinction.
With each new manned mission and step forward, let us always remember those who gave their lives exploring the final frontier.