Washington D.C. (January 27, 2011) – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration held a Day of Remembrance last Thursday, an agency-wide “Day of Remembrance” recognized each January to honor the fallen crews of Apollo 1, space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, and others who have given their lives in the cause of exploration.
January 28, 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident, when seven astronauts died 73 seconds after its morning launch on January 28, 1986. The crew included Commander Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Ronald E. McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and Sharon Christa McAuliffe.
Ellison S. Onizuka was a mission specialist on his second flight and was the first Asian American astronaut to be sent into space.
Born and raised in Kealakekua, Hawai’i in 1946, Onizuka was a Japanese American who went on to graduate from the University of Boulder with a degree in aeronautical engineering. A member of the Air Force ROTC, Onizuka joined the U.S. Air Force in 1970 and became a flight test engineer and test pilot, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before his selection for the NASA astronaut program in 1978.
He worked extensively as an engineer while also preparing for orbital flight. His first flight was the STS 51-C Space Shuttle Discovery mission in January 1985 and spent 74 hours in space.
Onizuka was 39 years-old and was survived by a spouse, Lorna Leiko Yoshida, two daughters, Janelle Onizuka-Gillilan, and Darien Lei Shizue Onizuka-Morgan. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, and posthumously promoted to the rank of Colonel.
Kalpana Chawla was a mission specialist on STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia, which was lost with its seven crew on February 1, 2003, when it disintegrated over Texas during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, en route to land at Cape Kennedy, Florida.
In her time at NASA, Chawla had compiled more than 31 days in space, traveled 6.5 million miles in 252 orbits of the Earth and logged 376 hours and 34 minutes in space.
Chawla, 41, was lost with fellow astronauts David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Rick Husband, and William McCool.
Born in Karnal, India in 1961, Chawla earned an aeronautical engineering degree from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh in 1982, and moved to the United States in 1982 to obtain a M.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. She earned a second M.S. degree in 1986 and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
That same year, Chawla started work at NASA Ames Research Center as vice president of Overset Methods, Inc., where she worked on powered-lift computational fluid dynamics. She had a passion for flying and held a Certificated Flight Instructor’s license with airplane and glider ratings, Commercial Pilot’s licenses for single- and multi-engine land and seaplanes, and Gliders, and instrument rating for airplanes. She was also an aerobatics flyer.
Chawla became a US citizen in 1990 and was accepted to the NASA astronaut corps in December 1994 as an astronaut candidate in the 15th Group of Astronauts. After completing a year of training and evaluation, she was assigned as crew representative to work technical issues for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches.
Her assignments included work on development of Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and testing space shuttle control software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory.
In November 1996, Kalpana Chawla was assigned as mission specialist and prime robotic arm operator on STS-87 (November 19 to December 5, 1997). STS-87 was the fourth U.S Microgravity Payload flight and focused on experiments designed to study how the weightless environment of space affects various physical processes, and on observations of the Sun’s outer atmospheric layers.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver placed a wreath at the Arlington National Cemetery. The Astronauts Memorial Foundation held a separate remembrance service honoring the Challenger crew members at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The remaining astronauts remembered include the Apollo I crew that was lost on January 27, 1967, when a flash fire occurred during air pressure tests on the command module of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle being prepared for the first piloted flight. The three astronauts lost were Lt. Col. Virgil I. Grissom; Lt. Col. Edward H. White; and Roger B. Chaffee.
President Barack Obama spoke on the occasion of NASA Day of Remembrance, honoring the memories of astronauts lost in the effort to move man into the frontier of outer space:
“Fifty years ago, a young President facing mounting pressure at home propelled a fledgling space agency on a bold, new course that would push the frontiers of exploration to new heights. Today, on this Day of Remembrance when NASA reflects on the mighty sacrifices made to push those frontiers, America’s space agency is working to achieve even greater goals.
“NASA’s new 21st Century course will foster new industries that create jobs, pioneer technology innovation, and inspire a new generation of explorers through education – all while continuing its fundamental missions of exploring our home planet and the cosmos.
“Throughout history, however, we have seen that achieving great things sometimes comes at great cost and we mourn the brave astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice in support of NASA missions throughout the agency’s storied history. We pause to reflect on the tragic loss of the Apollo 1 crew, those who boarded the space shuttle Challenger in search of a brighter future, and the brave souls who perished on the space shuttle Columbia.
“Through triumph and tragedy, each of us has benefited from their courage and devotion, and we honor their memory by dedicating ourselves to a better tomorrow. Despite the challenges before us today, let us commit ourselves and continue their valiant journey toward a more vibrant and secure future.”
The Astronauts Memorial Foundation, a private, not-for-profit organization, built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial. The memorial was dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training. It since has been designated a National Memorial by Congress.