Thursday, January 28, 2016
It's not an artful picture, but it is real life... a real-life corner that is the ongoing memorial to what we sadly but resolutely recall each year—what via NASA has come to be known as "Day of Remembrance," or a day within the single week's span in late January when coincidentally over time all three of our American space disasters and loss of life have occurred.
This year, today marks the 30th anniversary of the Jan. 28 loss of Challenger and its seven astronauts at just 73 seconds after launch, as they climbed into orbit, due to overlooked cold weather effects on the solid rocket booster O-rings that were supposed to keep hot gases in their place. Three of the crew had been among the pioneering women and minorities that Nichelle Nichols had helped to recuit for NASA to open up the astronaut ranks, nearly a decade earlier.
That's their mission patch logo to the left, here at a simple memorial in the original, historic and now preserved Mission Control Room at Johnson Space Center in Houston—nerve center of American space flight from Gemini through the shuttle. I snapped this shot during a visit last fall.
Of course, Jan. 27 was the date in 1967 when the Apollo 1 capsule fire, sparked by an electrical short in pure oxygen with a bulky main hatch, claimed the lives of its crew trio in seconds during a routine pre-launch test at the Cape for what would have been the first use of the new capsule in space; their mission patch is to the right. And Feb. 1, 2002 marks the loss of pioneering shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven as it began orbital re-entry, breaking up under routine stress just 6 minutes from landing due to unexamined damage to a wing's leading edge from ice damage at launch. (That loss happened after JSC's new modernized Mission Control was opened, and this historic place was preserved as it was—without their mission patch as well [though it is prevalent elsewhere].)
All were tragedies... all stemmed from unintended human error and oversight... and all three marked a case when the lives given provided hard education and lessons learned, to move forward after not just mourning but investigating the loss.
By the way: Between the mission logos, as a reminder of how sometimes tragedy can be averted in a mishap with ingenuity and luck, is the Apollo 13 lunar module mirror claimed from Aquarius after it served as a lifeboat for the safe return of that crew when their command module Odyssey was crippled after an oxygen tank shorted and exploded, turning their moon landing mission into one of simply triumphant survival.
If ever there was a concept that truly evoked Kirk's "Risk is our business!" speech, NASA's "Day of Remembrance" is it. The NASA webpage has information, video and memorials to all three ships and crews.
It's the kind of day to pause and reflect how far we have come, and how much further the way will be until we realize our future—and the additional lives that will surely be sacrificed as the cost to get there, despite best efforts, along the way. As I always say, I was a NASA kid before I was a Trek kid...and it's one of the reasons why I've always been a booster of all things space and future-looking, including my stint with Enterprise in Space.