Remembering

“It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in service to their country and for all mankind. Their dedication and devotion to the exploration of space was an inspiration to each of us and still motivates people around the world to achieve great things in service to others. As we orbit the Earth, we will join the entire NASA family for a moment of silence in their memory. Our thoughts and prayers go to their families as well.”
–Rick Husband, January 28, 2003, on board Columbia during STS-107

Apollo 1. Challenger. Columbia. And the other astronauts who gave their lives in the pursuit of the final frontier.

We pause this time every year to remember them, thank their families, and rededicate ourselves to ‘do it right.’ The passage of time matters not. We owe them this and so much more.

This year NASA unveiled a new memorial to the Apollo 1 crew at the KSC Visitor’s Center in the Apollo/Saturn V building. I saw it yesterday. It affected me in two ways – it’s just as moving as “Forever Remembered” for the Challenger and Columbia crews and, secondly, I’m not alone in thinking ‘it’s about time.’

But let me explain.

Displaying debris from the Shuttles and the hatches from the Apollo capsule was not a NASA decision. It was first and foremost always at the sole discretion of the crew families. NASA may request it, but THEY decide it. And it must be unanimous for each crew as a whole. And so on this 50th anniversary of the fire that killed Grissom, White, and Chaffee their families agreed it was time to honor their loved ones. For this guy, I’m glad they did. It completes our feeble attempt to thank them all.

Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke told a story today about one of his visits to a factory making components for his flight. He saw a man sweeping the floor and asked him what his job was. The man responded, “I’m helping to put men on the moon.”

He was not a floor sweeper. He was a member of the Apollo team. Perfect.

The memorials to the fallen astronauts should be required viewing by everyone in the business.

It can’t help but to instill or reinforce that floor sweeper’s attitude in each of us.

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The new Apollo 1 remembrance gallery at the KSC Apollo/Saturn V Visitors Center (photos by Mike Leinbach)

Author: Mike Leinbach

Mike was the final Space Shuttle Launch Director at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center. He led the launch team for all Shuttle missions from August 2000 to the end of the program in 2011, giving the final "go" for every launch.

7 thoughts on “Remembering”

  1. At the time every year we remember those who gave all to purse the exploration of space. For me Jan 28, 1986 was a day I will never forget. As a young Captain in the AF, assigned to the Shuttle group at Vandenberg AFB, CA, we were assigned a series of training opportunities at KSC in Florida. For me, I was assigned the Shuttle launch STS-61C on Columbia. I spent a few weeks at KSC working at the Integration Console for the launch of Columbia in December 1985. However, there were many scrubs of the launch due to a variety of reasons. The launch was rescheduled to early 1986, just before STS-51L on Challenger. I could not make it back to KSC for the Columbia launch, so I as re-assigned to the Challenger mission. As an AF trainee, my role was to be the Log Book keeper for the Integration Console. (No Microsoft in the Firing Room) Being in the Firing Room for a Shuttle launch and working with the greatest team was a dream for a young 25 year old from Hollywood, FL. The first attempt was scrubbed for Challenger, due to a simple problem with the support equipment on the crew hatch. We scrubbed for the next day, a very cold day at KSC. The launch was delayed on its launch day due to the extra cold temps and the ice that formed on the Pad. Which was due to the trickle flow that was turned on for the Pad Fire suppression system, so as not to freeze the lines, if they were really needed. We finally entered the terminal count and for me I was so excited to be just a tiny part of this launch as a trainee. Challenger launched into the cold late morning air and at 1138est, the world stopped as the Shuttle broke up and we lost the crew. My heart was beating out of my chest in the surreal truth that surrounded all of us in the Firing Room. As the minutes moved like hours, and the reality settled in, everyone left the Integration Console and I was asked to stay back and take the role as the OPE. We recorded everything going on and made sure everything at the Console would be ready to be impounded. I left late afternoon to take a quick nap, before returning to the Firing Room for special remarks from the VP and Senator Glenn. Their remarks, still sit with me today. A day or so later, as I was getting ready to leave KSC and head to the airport to fly back to Vandenberg, I was shown a picture of the launch by one of my mentors at KSC, C Stevenson, which showed some type of hot gas coming from one of the Boosters. I did not fully understand the impact of what that picture detailed on that day. I was told by my mentor, that the experiences of a failed mission would always be my foundation for my approach to supporting spaceflight. It certainly has! Even today, years later, I can remember so much about that day, and the lessons from that experience. To this day when I see 1138 on a clock or watch, I still think of the crew and that day in 1986.

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  2. Thank you for the words from the past, and present,spoken by people who have had access from within our space programs. For those who became fascinated,supported or simply followed what was going on, thank you for sharing. Somewhere on the ‘ladder’ we each occupy a step. It is with humility to consider those on a step below as equals in the endeavor to climb the ladder. It is with a sense of respect to admire those who have climbed a bit higher. Thank you Mike and Jonathan. Peace and blessings.

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  3. I would be curious to know how the floor sweeper came to feel he was part of a bigger mission, and how his factory fostered that feeling.

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    1. One of the things that NASA does really well is helping people connect to the bigger mission. This started back in the early days of the program–Mercury. The astronauts frequently toured the production facilities to see how things were going. In very personal way, their presence reminded every worker that there was a REAL human being whose life was depending on every single piece of that spacecraft, rocket, and support equipment working properly. Gus Grissom was famous for his three-word speech to workers at the General Dynamics plant who were building the Atlas rocket: “Do good work!” After the Apollo 1 fire, astronauts became even more intensely involved in every aspect of the manufacture of their capsules, space suits, rockets–everything. NASA’s Space Flight Awareness program grew out of those efforts, reminding the hundreds of thousands of people involved in the program that every person’s job was critical to the success of a mission.

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  4. Honoring all of the fallen heroes and explorers of our generation. Little did Rick know, less than 3-days later the 107 Crew would join the group being honored. May their person, legacy, good work and contributions be always remembered. Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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