Remembering NASA astronauts who’ve lost their lives

This undated photo made available by NASA shows the Apollo 1 crew, from left, Edward H. White II, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee. On Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule during a countdown rehearsal, with the astronauts atop the rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34. All three were killed. (NASA via AP)
This undated photo made available by NASA shows the Apollo 1 crew, from left, Edward H. White II, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee. On Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule during a countdown rehearsal, with the astronauts atop the rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34. All three were killed.

FILE - In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, astronauts Roger Chaffee, Edward White II, and Virgil Grissom, practice for their launch test in the Apollo Mission Simulator at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
FILE – In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, astronauts Roger Chaffee, Edward White II, and Virgil Grissom, practice for their launch test in the Apollo Mission Simulator at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members.

FILE - In this Feb. 17, 1967 file photo, the Apollo 1 capsule, with black smudge marks visible on the heat shield, is lowered from its Saturn 1 booster at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the craft killing the three Apollo crew members aboard. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin, Pool)
FILE – In this Feb. 17, 1967 file photo, the Apollo 1 capsule, with black smudge marks visible on the heat shield, is lowered from its Saturn 1 booster at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the craft killing the three Apollo crew members aboard.

In this 1966 photo made available by NASA, technicians work on the Spacecraft 012 Command Module at Cape Kennedy, Fla., for the Apollo/Saturn 204 mission. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the capsule killing three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
In this 1966 photo made available by NASA, technicians work on the Spacecraft 012 Command Module at Cape Kennedy, Fla., for the Apollo/Saturn 204 mission. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the capsule killing three Apollo crew members.

In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, veteran astronaut Virgil Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White and rookie Roger Chaffee, stand for a photograph in Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, veteran astronaut Virgil Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White and rookie Roger Chaffee, stand for a photograph in Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)

From left, Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee; Thad Altman, president of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation; Lowell Grissom, brother of Virgil Grissom; and Bonnie Baer, daughter of Ed White, carry a wreath to the base of the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Moonwalkers and dozens of others who took part in NASA’s Apollo program paid tribute to the three astronauts killed in a fire 50 years ago.  (Tim Shortt /Florida Today via AP)
From left, Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee; Thad Altman, president of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation; Lowell Grissom, brother of Virgil Grissom; and Bonnie Baer, daughter of Ed White, carry a wreath to the base of the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Moonwalkers and dozens of others who took part in NASA’s Apollo program paid tribute to the three astronauts killed in a fire 50 years ago.

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, mourners attend the burial of astronaut Virgil Grissom at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Grissom, 40, was selected in 1959 as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. Known as the hard luck astronaut, he had to swim for his life when his craft, Liberty Bell 7, sank after its descent on the second U.S. manned space flight July 21, 1961. (AP Photo)
FILE – In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, mourners attend the burial of astronaut Virgil Grissom at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Grissom, 40, was selected in 1959 as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. Known as the hard luck astronaut, he had to swim for his life when his craft, Liberty Bell 7, sank after its descent on the second U.S. manned space flight July 21, 1961.

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, a horse-drawn caisson carrying the body of astronaut Virgil Grissom travels to the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Walking beside the flag-draped casket as honor pallbearers are astronauts, from left foreground, Marine Col. John Glenn, Air Force Col. Gordon Cooper, Navy Cmdr. John Young; from left background are Donald Slayton, Navy Capt. Alan Sheperd and Navy Cmdr. Scott Carpenter. Grissom was killed in the Apollo 1 fire on launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967. (AP Photo)
FILE – In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, a horse-drawn caisson carrying the body of astronaut Virgil Grissom travels to the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Walking beside the flag-draped casket as honor pallbearers are astronauts, from left foreground, Marine Col. John Glenn, Air Force Col. Gordon Cooper, Navy Cmdr. John Young; from left background are Donald Slayton, Navy Capt. Alan Sheperd and Navy Cmdr. Scott Carpenter. Grissom was killed in the Apollo 1 fire on launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967.

FILE - This 1967 file photo shows the charred interior of the Apollo I spacecraft after a fire which killed astronauts Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Virgil Grissom on Jan. 27, 1967. A NASA official said the rehearsal had reached 10 minutes away from a simulated blastoff, one of many tests that was to precede the planned flight in the next month. (AP Photo)
FILE – This 1967 file photo shows the charred interior of the Apollo I spacecraft after a fire which killed astronauts Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Virgil Grissom on Jan. 27, 1967. A NASA official said the rehearsal had reached 10 minutes away from a simulated blastoff, one of many tests that was to precede the planned flight in the next month.

Watchf Associated Press Domestic News Florida United States APHS57016 APOLLO CREW KILLED
FILE – In this Jan. 28, 1967 file photo, guards stand at the Saturn 1 launch pad area the day after a flash fire killed the Apollo 1 crew at Cape Kennedy, Fla. Three astronauts, Lt. Col. Virgil Grissom; Lt. Col Edward H. White, and Lt. Commander Roger Chafee were killed when a fire erupted in their capsule on the launch pad during a preflight test for the Apollo 1, AS-204 mission.

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This undated photo made available by NASA shows the Apollo 1 crew, from left, Edward H. White II, Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee. On Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule during a countdown rehearsal, with the astronauts atop the rocket at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34. All three were killed. (NASA via AP)
FILE - In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, astronauts Roger Chaffee, Edward White II, and Virgil Grissom, practice for their launch test in the Apollo Mission Simulator at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
FILE - In this Feb. 17, 1967 file photo, the Apollo 1 capsule, with black smudge marks visible on the heat shield, is lowered from its Saturn 1 booster at Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the craft killing the three Apollo crew members aboard. (AP Photo/Jim Kerlin, Pool)
In this 1966 photo made available by NASA, technicians work on the Spacecraft 012 Command Module at Cape Kennedy, Fla., for the Apollo/Saturn 204 mission. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside the capsule killing three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
In this undated photo made available by NASA, from left, veteran astronaut Virgil Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White and rookie Roger Chaffee, stand for a photograph in Cape Kennedy, Fla. During a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967, a flash fire erupted inside their capsule killing the three Apollo crew members. (NASA via AP)
From left, Sheryl Chaffee, daughter of Roger Chaffee; Thad Altman, president of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation; Lowell Grissom, brother of Virgil Grissom; and Bonnie Baer, daughter of Ed White, carry a wreath to the base of the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Moonwalkers and dozens of others who took part in NASA’s Apollo program paid tribute to the three astronauts killed in a fire 50 years ago.  (Tim Shortt /Florida Today via AP)
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, mourners attend the burial of astronaut Virgil Grissom at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Grissom, 40, was selected in 1959 as one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. Known as the hard luck astronaut, he had to swim for his life when his craft, Liberty Bell 7, sank after its descent on the second U.S. manned space flight July 21, 1961. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 1967 file photo, a horse-drawn caisson carrying the body of astronaut Virgil Grissom travels to the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Walking beside the flag-draped casket as honor pallbearers are astronauts, from left foreground, Marine Col. John Glenn, Air Force Col. Gordon Cooper, Navy Cmdr. John Young; from left background are Donald Slayton, Navy Capt. Alan Sheperd and Navy Cmdr. Scott Carpenter. Grissom was killed in the Apollo 1 fire on launch pad on Jan. 27, 1967. (AP Photo)
FILE - This 1967 file photo shows the charred interior of the Apollo I spacecraft after a fire which killed astronauts Ed White, Roger Chaffee, and Virgil Grissom on Jan. 27, 1967. A NASA official said the rehearsal had reached 10 minutes away from a simulated blastoff, one of many tests that was to precede the planned flight in the next month. (AP Photo)
Watchf Associated Press Domestic News Florida United States APHS57016 APOLLO CREW KILLED

WASHINGTON — This time every year, I remind WTOP readers of the 17 astronauts who gave their lives to NASA’s pursuit of spaceflight. 

The crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were killed on Jan. 27, 1967; Jan. 28, 1986; and Feb. 1, 2003.

Apollo 1 was on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Florida, 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, while Columbia disintegrated on re-entry.

In each instance, the cause of the disaster was determined after lengthy investigations and fixed. As a result, the successive flights were safer. We can try to take as much risk as possible out of the equation of manned spaceflight, but it will always be there. We cannot ever forget that these lessons learned were at the cost of human lives.

Other NASA astronauts who have been killed include: Mike Adams, the first in-flight fatality of the space program who died as he piloted an X-15 rocket plane on Nov. 15, 1967; Robert Lawrence, Theodore Freeman, Elliott See, Charles Bassett and Clifton Williams, who were lost in training accidents; and Manley “Sonny” Carter, who died in a commercial aircraft crash while on NASA business.

NASA employees and guests at Kennedy Space Center held their annual Kennedy Day of Remembrance on Thursday. At 11 a.m. Friday, NASA will televise the opening ceremony and dedication of a new tribute to Apollo 1.

Spaceflight and space exploration are risky businesses. But the rewards of discovery and furthering human knowledge are worth the risk. A new generation of manned spacecraft, Orion, and the rocket to launch it, Space Launch System, are being built and prepared for flight in the next few years. Orion and SLS have the capability of going to the moon, asteroids and Mars. Right now, NASA has its sights on a manned Mars missions in the 2030s, but the new White House administration has yet to make its space intentions known.

I was just at Kennedy Space Center, having been there last in 2013. New construction abounds with a new KSC headquarters building, Space X leasing fabled Launch Pad 39A and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin commercial complex. It was all gratifying to see.

Humanity needs to leave this planet to explore 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.

Read more about NASA’s Day of Remembrance 2017.

Follow my daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.


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