Columbia Memorial Space Center paid respect to the Apollo 1 tragedy with a plaque installation on Saturday.
The CMSC’s newest memorial installation came a day after the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy that claimed the lives of NASA Astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee; it was also the 31st anniversary of the Challenger explosion, to the day. The Columbia disaster anniversary follows shortly after on February 1st, which falls on this upcoming Wednesday.
Saturday saw the museum play host to a handful of experts with ties to the space exploration and engineering programs, as well as NASA astronaut John Olivas.
The day’s events began with a few words from CMSC Director Ben Dickow, before the unveiling of the Apollo 1 tribute plaque.
“Today we honor three crews lost in humanity’s ongoing progress to explore and to learn more,” said Dickow. “…Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 disaster. It was NASA’s first real hiccup, and it has a particular poignancy to Downey. Actually, all of the disasters do…”
Columbia Memorial is located on the grounds formerly occupied by the NASA site where the Apollo shuttles were designed and built. Many of the astronauts also trained in the area.
“The engineers here in Downey had close relationships with the astronauts, especially Apollo 1…,” said Dickow. “When that disaster happened, the Downey crew flew immediately out to Florida and started doing forensic analysis, but they were also doing – basically – analysis on their friends.”
According to astronaut Olivas, all three of the disasters were crucial to the continuation of space exploration.
“By definition, astronauts know that there’s an inherent risk associated with space flight,” said Olivas. “If they (the disasters) had never happened, it’d probably have meant that we weren’t doing our job and we weren’t trying to push the envelope of technology. From the earliest days of exploration, loss of human life has always been part of that learning cycle. The only reason we are where we are today is because we’ve had to suffer and endure tremendous loss and tremendous learning events.
"And it’s because of that that we will continue our endeavor forward, making space flight safer and safer until one day in the future, space flight will be no different than commercial airline flight.”
The installation of the plaque now makes Downey’s space museum a triple memorial, adding to the already established Challenger Learning Center and the museum itself, which acts as the official national memorial to the Columbia disaster.