Remembered as seven brave explorers, the Columbia astronauts were honored Tuesday with the unveiling of their names carved into the national Space Mirror Memorial, just six miles from where they rocketed into orbit nine months ago. Covering two panels on the monument, which resembles a giant mirror, their names joined those of 17 other astronauts who died doing their jobs.
“They were accomplished scientists, doctors and pilots, united in their common desire to explore space,” said John Young, noting their diverse backgrounds and faiths. Young was the first commander of the space shuttle Columbia.
Filling the front row of chairs were the immediate families of Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
The Columbia families were joined by the relatives of other astronauts who died on duty, including those killed in the 1967 Apollo spacecraft fire and the 1986 Challenger explosion.
In the audience of more than 300 were NASA employees and dignitaries from Israel and India, the homelands of Ramon and Chawla. Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, was the first non-American to have his name inscribed in the monument.
The 42-by-50-foot (13-by-15-meter) memorial of mirror-finished granite at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex was completed in 1991. Names of the fallen are engraved right through the stone, with the spaces filled by translucent acrylic. The sun’s rays are reflected through the names. Even when the sun isn’t out, spotlights illuminate the display.
Risks of spaceflight
The Columbia crew’s 16-day scientific research mission ended 16 minutes short of a Kennedy touchdown on Feb. 1. The shuttle shattered in a stream of fiery debris over Texas. The cause was a chunk of foam insulation that broke off the fuel tank and pierced the left wing on launch day.
“We all know that when you’re involved in endeavors, great endeavors, you’re involved in great risk, and the crew knew that and they accepted those risks in participating in discovery,” Young said. “The men and women of Columbia — Rick, Willie, Mike, KC, Dave, Laurel and Ilan — were driven by a passion for spaceflight and a desire to improve life on Earth by unlocking the mysteries of space.”
He called the astronauts “seven brave explorers” who will “forever be heroes to us” and said they would want everyone to continue to pursue the dream of space travel. “From those launch pads right over there,” he said, pointing east, “the future is waiting for us.”
Dr. Jon Clark, the widower of astronaut Laurel Clark, said, “This memorial, this mirror has many blank spots, and they will not go unfilled because the destiny of mankind will come at some cost. So we must all bear that in mind as we proceed ahead.”