The last week of January every year brings us the opportunity to reflect on the sobering realities of our space exploration enterprise. Each time men and women board a spacecraft, their actions carry great risk along with the opportunity for great discoveries and the chance to push the envelope of our human achievement. Today, we honor the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, as well as other members of the NASA Family who lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration. We thank them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifices in the service of our nation.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the loss of Challenger — a tragedy that caused us to completely re-think our systems and processes as we worked to make the shuttle safer. The nation will never forget Jan. 28, 1986, nor its indelible images. The astronauts in that crew were personal friends of mine, as were the astronauts aboard Columbia when it was lost. The Apollo I crew perished while I was studying at the Naval Academy, and I mourned their loss in the line of duty with the nation. These brave men and women will always be a part of us, and we are still building on their legacies.
NASA has learned hard lessons from each of our tragedies, and they are lessons that we will continue to keep at the forefront of our work as we continuously strive for a culture of safety that will help us avoid our past mistakes and heed warnings while corrective measures are possible. In memory of our colleagues, I ask the NASA Family once again to always make its opinions known and to be unafraid to speak up to those in authority, so that safety can always be our guiding principle and the sacrifices of our friends and colleagues will not be in vain.
On this Day of Remembrance, as we honor our fallen heroes with tributes and public ceremonies, I will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Across the country, flags at NASA Headquarters and the NASA centers will be flown at half-mast in memory of our colleagues lost in the cause of exploration.
The legacy of those who have perished is present every day in our work and inspires generations of new space explorers. Every day, with each new challenge we overcome and every discovery we make, we honor these remarkable men and women. Please join me in working to fulfill their dreams for the future.