Each year at this time, the NASA community pauses on this Day of Remembrance to honor the brave women and men who lost their lives for the most noble of goals: the pursuit of truth and greater understanding. Today, we remember the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, as well as those who surrendered all in support of missions of exploration and discovery. Our expressions of gratitude for their sacrifice cannot retract the overwhelming pain of their loss, but perhaps our efforts can further propel forward the purpose for which they gave their lives.
NASA’s Day of Remembrance gives all of us an opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on the lessons of the past and on the lives of those who dared slip the bonds of Earth and reach for greater heights. Space exploration holds many rewards as well as countless unforgiving dangers. Unfortunately, NASA has learned through sad experience the high price spaceflight demands for mistakes and failures. Each of these tragedies have changed NASA. The lessons we learned from them influence everything we do today, ensuring the sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten.
Shortly after the Apollo 1 accident that catastrophically killed all three crew members, flight director Gene Kranz addressed his team at mission control. “Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity and neglect,” he said. “Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up [and] we should have caught it.” Kranz insisted that from that moment on his team would be known for two words: “tough and competent.” This renewed sense of personal accountability marked the transformation of a slapdash engineering culture into one with a relentless pursuit of perfection. This culture of excellence has persisted and permeated throughout all of NASA. Similarly, the Challenger and Columbia investigative reports have further perfected and cemented our unrelenting determination to keep our astronauts safe.
This year the lessons of the past are ever at the forefront of our minds as we prepare to return human spaceflight to our nation. In the very near future, we will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil – something not done since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011, and a capability our nation must never lose again. NASA’s close partnerships with American businesses will revolutionize spaceflight as commercial spacecraft pave the way to an era of greater human spaceflight opportunities than ever before. These commercial partners know that our standards of safety are uncompromising and are informed by the heart-wrenching loss of heroes we will forever honor on this Day of Remembrance.
The daring pioneer spirit of our men and women throughout the years as they take their seats aboard our spacecraft is remarkable. There is nothing inevitable about scientific discovery nor is there a predetermined path of cutting-edge innovation. Long hours of arduous study and courageous experimentation are required merely to glimpse a flicker of enlightenment that can lead to greater heights of human achievement. Our fallen heroes knew this and it is why they risked their lives. To expand our knowledge of the cosmos is to pursue a better life on Earth for our children, and future generations to come. Much of the technological triumphs and success we enjoy today and the scientific advancements awaiting humanity on the horizon of this new, dynamic era of 21st-century spaceflight are the very gifts they wished to bestow. Our efforts today in pursuing the objectives of the Artemis Program and others honor our heroes for the foundations they laid that make our success possible.
Today on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, I encourage all to reflect on the legacy and memory of our friends and colleagues who lost their lives to advance humanity to new frontiers. Let us give gratitude not only in words but through our actions by redoubling our efforts in honor of their selfless sacrifice.