NASA honors its fallen astronauts on annual Day of Remembrance


Karen Bassett Stephenson reflected on the loss of her father while standing before the Space Mirror Memorial bearing his name.

The daughter of Charles Bassett, an astronaut who was killed in a 1966 jet crash while preparing to launch on a Gemini mission, Stephenson joined several other fallen astronauts’ family members to observe NASA’s Day of Remembrance at the Florida monument on Thursday (Jan. 25).

“The Mirror is so much more than polished stone and steel. It also represents the things which we can only hold in our hearts,” said Stephenson. “In the Mirror’s reflection, beyond the names of those we love so dearly, we can see courage and curiosity, hope, fear, grief, loss, love and extraordinary pride.”

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The Space Mirror Memorial, which since 1991 has stood at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and has been maintained by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, honors 25 men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of spaceflight or exploration. The names listed on the wall include seven victims of aircraft accidents and 18 astronauts who died aboard their spacecraft, including the Apollo 1, STS-51L/Challenger and STS-107/Columbia crews.

“Some of you remember the exact place you were and exactly what you were doing when you heard about the Challenger [disaster] or any of these other tragedies. Some of you weren’t even alive yet,” said Kathie Fulgham, chair of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and the daughter of STS-51L commander Dick Scobee. “On our annual Day of Remembrance, it means a great deal to the families of our fallen astronauts and to the NASA community. You honor us by being here to mourn the loss, but to also celebrate the lives of these astronauts.”

Joining Fulgham and Stephenson for the ceremony were also Lowell Grissom and Cheryl Chaffee, the brother and daughter of Apollo 1 crewmates Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee, respectively. The event concluded with the family members and the public in attendance leaving wreaths and flowers at the Mirror.

four people stand near a black wall with a large wreath of flowers nearby.

four people stand near a black wall with a large wreath of flowers nearby.

Later on Thursday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Jim Free continued the observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The three laid wreaths at the gravestones and memorial markers for the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews.

“Our annual Day of Remembrance honors the sacrifice of the NASA family who lost their lives in the pursuit of discovery,” said Nelson in a statement. “While it is a solemn day, we are forever thankful that our fallen heroes shared their spirt of exploration with NASA, our country, and the world.”

“Today, and every day, we embrace NASA’s core value of safety as we expand our reach in the cosmos for the benefit of all humanity,” he said.

three men in suits stand near a large gray tombstone in a cemetery, with smaller white markers stretching into the distance.

three men in suits stand near a large gray tombstone in a cemetery, with smaller white markers stretching into the distance.

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Joining Nelson, Melroy and Free at Arlington was June Scobee Rodgers, widow of STS-51L commander Dick Scobee; Michael Oldak, former husband of Challenger mission specialist Judy Resnik and Kristy Carroll, a family friend of the late shuttle Columbia astronaut William McCool.

Across the country, NASA’s other centers and facilities also held commemorations for their workforce. Employees came together at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and Stennis Space Flight Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to NASA’s astronaut corps and Mission Control, marked the day with a T-38 jet flyover, a performance of taps by a squadron from Texas A&M University and a tree dedication for former astronaut Karol “Bo” Bobko, who died in August 2023.

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