If you grew up in the same era as I, then watching the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions on television was almost routine.
We recall with admiration the work of John Glenn as the first man to orbit the earth in 1962, Alan Sheppard as the first man in space, President John F. Kennedy’s declaration in the early 1960s that our country would have a man on the moon before the end of the decade, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in July, 1969 and all the amazing work from NASA for the decades to follow, including the space shuttle and space stations.
The incredible work by these space warriors has been credited with the technology we take for granted today, such as cell phones, GPS, PC’s, the Internet and so much more.
But with all the successes, there was tragedy along the way.
Forty six years ago today, astronauts Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White were preparing for the first mission in the Apollo era, scheduled for mid February of ’67. The three were in the rocket’s capsule when a fire engulfed and instantly killed them.
Despite the tragedy, the Apollo mission continued a little over a year later with Apollo 7, and ultimately the historic flight of Apollo 11 in the summer of ’69 and man’s first steps on the lunar surface. Five more Apollo missions would successfully land on the moon and return while a sixth, Apollo 13, never made it to the moon, but avoided certain tragedy and returned home safely.
The fate of Grissom, White and Chaffee should never be overlooked. The three men were the trailblazers of a new generation, Grissom, in fact, was a member of the original Mercury 7 (remember the move ‘The Right Stuff’?).
Nineteen years and a day after the deaths of the original Apollo astronauts, a new generation of youngsters was undoubtedly glued to a television on Jan. 28, 1986 when the Challenger Space Shuttle took off for what was considered a ‘routine’ flight.
We would soon learn that no flight involving space travel was ever routine. The Challenger had flown nine missions with near flawless success, beginning in 1983 and most recently in Oct., 1985.
But the tenth flight, as we all know, would be the last, as the Challenger blasted off, but soon exploded, killing all seven on board. Do you remember the flight members on that fateful day? I’m sorry to say I didn’t remember all the names, but I looked them up. Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Dick Scobee lost their lives that day and a nation grieved.
Seventeen years and four days after Challenger, America witnessed another tragedy in space when the shuttle Columbia was destroyed during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven on board. The members of that crew were Rick Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Llan Ramon.
So on, or around the anniversary of three tragic flights, we should all say thanks to the many men and women who served and gave their lives for our country.
We should never forget.