This week we were reminded of our nation’s greatness. It has been forty years since we heard the immortal words, “That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind,” but many men and women – before and since – have braved the unforgiving conditions outside the embrace of earth’s atmosphere to further our knowledge of space and the mysteries beyond.
Our march into space has not been without cost – people have died.
In 1967, the first Apollo mission, begun on the heels of the successful Gemini program, ended in disaster before it ever began. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee officially died of smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the oxygen-rich environment of the capsule during a routine practice session, after a short created sparks and ignited an inferno. It took five minutes to get the capsule door open, and by then the three men were gone. Because of the tragedy, new procedures (including a new hatch) were designed for future flights.
In 1986 seven astronauts were killed when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift off. The deaths of Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judith Resnik resulted in several modifications to the Shuttle engines.
In 2003 Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon (Israel) died when Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry. Its left wing had been damaged during lift off by foam that had broken off the external fuel tank. The disaster resulted in many modifications to reduce foam hazards, and a change in procedures to improve communication within the agency.
17 deaths over a span of 42 years. The loss of these elite space travelers, although tragic and difficult to contemplate, resulted in safer flights for those who would follow.
It takes a special kind of person to become an astronaut. They possess extraordinary talents and traits, and only a few people on earth can realistically aspire to be counted among them. They know their job is dangerous, but they also know the importance of their role. So they go into space, and forge ahead toward new frontiers.
The Astronauts, alive and dead, are our heroes of the week.
There are some outstanding websites to visit if you want to learn about the history of the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs. Most of the the information in this article was pulled from these sites.