Over the next six days, there will be three very somber anniversaries in the space community. That six-day stretch began today, as on this date in 1967, three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a flash fire during a launch pad test. Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s explosion during launch in 1986, a tragedy that claimed the lives of all seven astronauts on board. And then of course this Sunday, February 1, will be the twelfth anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the seven astronauts of her crew, all of whom perished when the vehicle disintegrated during reentry.
For more about these tragedies and the heroes we lost as a result of them, you can read our World Space Week blog post from October 8, 2012.
These tragic accidents, like the one that claimed the life of a Virgin Galactic test pilot last year, serve as a reminder that leaving this planet is never easy, and that traveling and working in space will never truly be “safe.” But each of these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of space exploration believed that going out to the black was something worth risking their very lives for, and ultimately they did it for us, for our children and for those future generations for whom travel into Low Earth Orbit will be no more extraordinary than an airline flight from New York to Berlin is today.
And for those of us who will never know what it’s like to break atmo, the least we can do to show our gratitude is honor their memories. May they rest in peace.
Ad astra per aspera…