Despite extensive safety precautions and the expertise of thousands of engineers and scientists from NASA and private contractors, 17 U.S. astronauts have died in accidents aboard the space ship. This is a salute to those men and women, the best and brightest that this country has to offer, who perished during the 144 manned missions as they met the challenge of space with joy and hunger.
January 27, 1967
At 6:31 p.m., during a mock launch sequence, a fire broke out in the spacecraft. Fueled by the pure oxygen atmosphere intended for the flight, flames engulfed the capsule and the astronauts died of asphyxiation.
• Virgil "Gus" Grissom
• Edward White II
• Roger Chaffee
January 28, 1986
At 11:40 a.m., an explosion occurred 73 seconds into the flight as a result of a leak in one of two Solid Rocket Boosters that ignited the main liquid fuel tank.
• Francis Scobee, Commander
• Michael Smith, Pilot
• Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist 1
• Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2
• Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist 3
• Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist 1
• Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist 2
Feb. 1, 2003
At 8:59 a.m., Columbia was destroyed on its landing descent. It was determined that foam that broke off the orbiter during the launch and struck a wing. The collision breached the leading edge of the left wing, and during re-entry, the breach allowed superheated air to enter the wing and melt electrical wiring and the wing's aluminum spars. This resulted in a weakening of the structure until aerodynamic forces caused loss of control, failure of the wing and breakup of the orbiter.
• Rick Husband, Commander
• William McCool, Pilot
• Mike Anderson, Payload Commander
• Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist
• Dave Brown, Mission Specialist
• Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist
• Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist
President Ronald Reagan
For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, "Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy." They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.
-President Ronald Reagan,
Jan. 28, 1986, reflecting on the Challenger disaster
President George Bush
All Americans today are thinking, as well, of the families of these men and women who have been given this sudden shock and grief. You're not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you loved will always have the respect and gratitude of this country.
The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.
-President George Bush,
Feb. 1, 2003, reflecting on the Columbia disaster