Hundreds of people gathered along with Kennedy Space Center workers to pay tribute to NASA’s Apollo 1 crew and other astronauts fallen in the line of duty at the Florida campus.
The Remembrance Day Ceremony takes place annually on January 26, the day before the anniversary of the tragedy that took with it the lives of three astronauts back in 1957.
Other crewmembers who have also been victims of the harsh reality of space exploration endeavors were also honored during the Thursday event.
Gone but not forgotten: The Apollo 1 astronauts
Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee died tragically on the afternoon of January 27, 1957, after the cockpit of the Saturn 1B rocket caught on fire during a launch rehearsal.
Mission control at Cape Canaveral was trying fixing a communications glitch when the fire broke out. They were able to hear the astronauts screaming for help as ground units tried their hardest to open the hatch of the spacecraft.
The crew did not make it, and the accident was attributed to the highly volatile pure oxygen atmosphere inside the rocket. Studying the conditions of the tragedy proved instrumental for following missions to avoid the same destiny.
That was before the United States put a man on the Moon, and yet, Gus Grissom has already envisioned the stakes of space exploration and written them down in an early draft for a book titled ‘Gemini’ after the NASA program.
“THERE WILL BE RISKS, AS THERE ARE IN ANY EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAM. BUT I HOPE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WON’T FEEL IT’S TOO HIGH A PRICE FOR OUR SPACE PROGRAM,” wrote Grissom 50 years ago.
Remembrance Day was NASA’s first public act under new leadership
Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s new acting administrator and Trump’s pick to lead the agency, opened the ceremony with a few words about the fallen astronauts and the invaluable legacy they left.
Lightfoot, a career engineer and program manager for NASA since the late 80s, spoke at the event on Cape Canaveral to honor the crews of the Apollo 1, the Challenger, and Columbia.
He was joined by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Roger Chaffee’s daughter Sheryl, Gus Grissom’s brother Lowell, and Ed White’s daughter Bonnie White-Baer.
Family members and the general public gathered for a moment at the Space Mirror Memorial adjacent to center facilities. The memorial includes the names of all astronauts perished under tragic circumstances.
NASA will likely suffer a shift in perspective in the upcoming months, as the new administration sets in and gets ready to push new directives for space exploration missions and, perhaps, even plans for going to Mars soon.