We are closing out what has is always the saddest week of the year for those involved in the US space program. NASA held its official Day of Remembrance for fallen astronauts on January 29.
Forty years ago, on January 27, 1967, three men died when Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad during a test.
Four years ago, on February 1, 2003, NASA lost seven astronauts (six American, one Israeli) when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry due to damage from debris created at liftoff.
Twenty-one years ago, on January 28, 1986, the shuttle Challenger was destroyed during liftoff in a catastrophic accident traced to an O-ring seal in one of the spacecraft's solid rocket motors.
We cannot romanticize death, and we should never try. Nevertheless, there is no word that fits better than "heroes" for the men and women of these missions. They were the best our species had to offer, explorers who knew they were taking risks. We can honor their memories, and we can do what they would wish: to carry on the exploration of the universe.
"Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee
Michael Smith, "Dick" Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik
Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Dave Brown, Kalpana Chawa, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.