Remembering the Sacrifices of Past Astronauts

Apollo 1 Fire

On January 27, 1967 the crew for Apollo 1 was conducting tests while sealed into their command pod. The three man crew included Command Pilot Virgil A. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. The cabin was completely isolated for the test, including the air system. Inside the cabin was an atmosphere of nearly 100% oxygen, creating a volatile environment. It is believed that a short near the Environmental Control Unit started a fire inside the cabin. The fire was able to expand very quickly in the oxygen-rich environment. The command pod had an inner and an outer door. While the crew was quickly able to open the inner door they were not able to open the hinged outer door, and all three perished. The Apollo program was put on pause. An in-depth investigation was launched, and it was determined that the crew died of cardiac arrest due to the large amounts of carbon dioxide created during the fire. Many of the command pod systems were found to have flaws and possible failures. This incident opened up NASA’s eyes to these problems, and out of this tragedy came many improvements in safety for astronauts.

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Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle known as Challenger was prepared to launch. After an unusually cold night there were concerns about possible damage to the equipment, but the decision was made to ‘go.’ 73 seconds into the flight the craft exploded; the explosion was caused by a faulty o-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters which set off the liquid fuel, resulting in the craft’s destruction. All seven astronauts perished, and the shuttle program was paused for about 32 months. Included in the crew was Christa McAuliffe, who was going to be the first teacher into space. Because of this occasion many classrooms were tuned in to watch the launch; this tragic disaster effected many, as it is believed nearly 17% of the entire nation was watching when it happened. NASA again saw this as a wake-up call to make their launch vehicles and systems more reliable and safer.

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Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster

On February 1,  2003 the space shuttle Columbia was set to reenter the earth’s atmosphere. Some of the protective foam that covers the underside of the ship from heat during reentry was torn away during the launch from several days before, but the extent of the damage was unknown. As the Columbia reentered the atmosphere the area that was damaged and uncovered came apart, resulting in the craft coming apart. All seven crew members died upon reentry. Debris was found all across Texas and Louisiana; an investigation was launched and many of the pieces of debris were found and examined. The shuttle program was put on hold for nearly two years as many upgrades and safety features were added.

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