Exactly 40 years ago, NASA registered the first casualties in its battle for outer-space: Lt. Colonel Gus Grissom, Lt. Colonel Ed White and Lt. Commander Roger Chaffee died on the ground because of a fire that burst in their space-capsule.
NASA thought of remembering their names and their sacrifice with a special section dedicated to Apollo 1 on the agency’s site: “NASA honors the fallen heroes of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia and all of those who have given their lives in the cause of exploration and discovery. We will carry their legacy into cosmos as we expand humanity’s presence to the moon, Mars and beyond.”
Tragedy struck on the launch pad during a preflight test for Apollo 204, scheduled to be the first Apollo manned mission. It would have been launched on February 21, 1967, but Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a fire swept through the Command Module (CM).
On January 28, 1986 America was again shocked by the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, and the death of its seven crew members.
Challenger, the second orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after an American Naval research vessel that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870's. Challenger joined NASA fleet of reusable winged spaceships in July 1982. It flew nine successful Space Shuttle missions. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger and its seven-member crew were lost 73 seconds after launch when a booster failure resulted in the breakup of the vehicle.
In February 2003, as Columbia was making final preparations for landing, the families of the 7 astronauts on board the space-vehicle were traveling to Kennedy Space Center to watch their loved ones’ homecoming.
Columbia and its crew were scheduled to land at Space Center at 9:16 a.m. Shortly before 9:00AM EST, Mission Control noticed a sensor problem. There seemed to be a loss of data from the left wing temperature sensors. This was followed by a data loss from tire pressure indicators on the left main landing gear. Although this was a problem, it could have also been a simple communication glitch. There were standard procedures in place to deal with it.
During the atmosphere re-entry, Columbia was traveling at 12,500 mph, 18 times the speed of sound, 39 miles above the Earth, when people in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana heard unusual sounds coming from the sky. Many who were watching to see the shuttle pass overhead reported seeing debris separating from the vehicle. This was a clear indication that something was wrong. Minutes later, NASA announced that a Space Shuttle Contingency had been lost.
NASA is not planning though to stop here, as President Bush announced a bold program for the next two decades. NASA has completed the Ares I crew launch vehicle system requirements review- the first such milestone for a U.S. human-rated launch vehicle system in more than 30 years. This review brings the agency one step closer to developing a new mode of space transportation for astronauts on missions to explore the moon, Mars and other destinations.
In January 2007, the Ares project will begin the second in a series of design analyses cycles leading to final design and fabrication of the launch vehicle.
I have linked the NASA site where they are having a day of rememberance to honor those lost...the original article for this text is here