NASA, the nation and the world are observing this and next week the anniversaries of human losses in spaceflight: Apollo 1 (fifty one years ago Saturday, January 27), Challenger (thirty two years ago Sunday, January 28), and Columbia (fifteen years ago Next Thursday, February 1).
I still remember all too well that Friday night in 1967. I was at home with my brother watching a science fiction show on ABC called Time Tunnel when the first news bulletins started coming over about the catastrophic fire. It was a terrible shock to an eleven year old boy caught up in the excitement of the space age,. It was most unexpected because it came not during flight but during a ground test that I was not even aware was happening that day.
For the 1986 Challenger mission, I was working in California as part of the flight operations team responsible for the delivery of the primary payload, a NASA TDRS communications satellite, to its final orbit. It was the darkest day of my career in the space industry.
I heard about the Columbia loss while I was driving and heard a news bulletin on the local news station saying that Columbia had lost communications and was "overdue". At the word "overdue", I immediately knew that it was going to be a bad day, as the Shuttle was a glider with no powered engines during approach and landing. If they didn't return on time, obviously something had gone terribly wrong.
May they be always remembered, along with the four Russians, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo pilot and all those who have or will give their lives in the future as humans expand outward to explore, develop and settle new places in the cosmos. May God grant them all eternal rest.