Remembering NASA’s Fallen Space Heroes

Yesterday, my AIA colleagues Frank Slazer and Tami Plofchan and I joined with NASA leaders and staff, other government space officials, members of Congress, congressional staffers and astronaut family members in attending NASA’s annual Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery. This solemn event honors the memories of the Apollo 1 and Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews, who perished at this time of year in mishaps and accidents still seared in the memory of their fellow Americans.

Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot presented memorial wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, at the memorials to the Challenger and Columbia crews, as well as at the grave sites of Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee. In brief and eloquent remarks, Lightfoot reminded those present that this day compels us to think of the reasons why these brave men and women sought to explore, how these tragedies occurred, and how we can continue on the road of discovering the unknown.

It is worth noting that while this event properly commemorates losses from the past, and reminds us to be ever heedful of the need to respect the risks of space exploration, NASA and its industry partners are building a bold new future worthy of the courage of our astronauts. For nearly two decades, six astronauts from several countries have been conducting profound research in orbit on the International Space Station. And today, commercial companies such as Boeing, Orbital ATK and Sierra Nevada are developing new spacecraft to allow America to independently bring crew members and cargo to and from the ISS, and other companies such as Lockheed Martin work on the Orion developing the next generation of spacecraft to go beyond Earth orbit and return to the moon in the next decade. These efforts are certain to inspire the bright young men and women in our schools who dream about being part of a space program that continues to expand the frontiers of human possibility.

Last week, at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Lightfoot also spoke about how NASA today seeks to infuse an ethos of safety across enterprises and throughout all its mission activities. Having experienced the Challenger accident as a worker for prime Space Shuttle contractor Rockwell International, and the Columbia accident as NASA’s speechwriter, I have observed first-hand how seriously industry and NASA take the issue of safety, and how dedicated both are in pursuing innovative solutions to make inherently risky missions as safe as possible. NASA’s Day of Remembrance reminds us to be ever vigilant as we explore the space frontier for we hold the safety of courageous space explorers and the well-being of their families in our hands, just as it reminds us that it is a pursuit worth taking.


To learn more about the NASA Day of Remembrance, visit the NASA’s Remembrance page.