Monday, January 28, 2008

Human Spaceflight Remembrance Day

Today is the 22nd Anniversary of the Space Shuttle "Challenger" disaster. Yesterday was the 41st Anniversary of the "Apollo 1" tragedy. February 1st marks the 5th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle "Columbia" disaster. It is a sad time of year for everyone who, like me, advocates human spaceflight and exploration for the ongoing betterment of the human race.

On January 27th, 1967, a fire broke out in the "Apollo 1" Command Module capsule as it was undergoing a supposedly routine ground test, killing all three astronauts inside: Virgil "Gus" Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

On January 28th, 1986, following an initially successful launch the Space Shuttle "Challenger" exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing all 7 crew onboard: astronauts Francis "Dick" Scobee, Ron McNair, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik and Greg Jarvis, and civilian teacher Christa McAuliffe.

On February 1st, 2003, following a successful 16-day spaceflight the Space Shuttle "Columbia" broke up on re-entry, killing the crew of 7: U.S. astronauts Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Here are a few memorable quotes from some those who died:

Gus Grissom (who was the second ever American, and the third ever human, into space following the successful July 1961 "Mercury-Redstone 4" mission):
"If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
-- after his and John Young's successful "Gemini 3" mission, March 1965

Ed White:
"I think you have to understand the feeling that a pilot has, that a test pilot has, that I look forward a great deal to making the first flight. There's a great deal of pride involved in making a first flight."

Christa McAuliffe (who would have been the first ever civilian, and teacher, into space):
"I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies."

Dr. Ron McNair:
"Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them. You're eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky."

Willie McCool:
"From our orbital vantage point, we observe an earth without borders, full of peace, beauty and magnificence, and we pray that humanity as a whole can imagine a borderless world as we see it and strive to live as one in peace."

These tragic losses all occurred in NASA spacecraft as part of the U.S. space program. The following people also sadly died during spaceflights as part of the former U.S.S.R.'s (now Russia's) space program:

Vladimir Komarov, who died when his "Soyuz 1" capsule crashed after re-entry, April 24th, 1967.

Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev, who died when their "Soyuz 11" capsule depressurized prior to re-entry, June 30th, 1971.

I vividly remember watching the April 1972 "Apollo 16" and December 1972 "Apollo 17" manned moon-landings on TV with my father when I was quite young (my 5th Birthday was in October of that year), and I was awe-inspired by the experiences. I have been fascinated by, and a supporter of, human spaceflight ever since. I hope we never stop trying to conquer space. In part to continually honour the memory of those who have died trying, but chiefly to continue to advance ourselves as a species - a prime motive, surely, of all those who have ever attempted to travel into space - I think we must never stop, no matter how difficult and dangerous it is.

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