Over 130 missions were flown and only two Shuttle flights met disaster during three decades. That's an impressive safety record when you think that this was the most complicated machine ever built - strapped to a few tons of liquid and solid explosives.
And still, those two failures still hurt so much.
The image of the Space shuttle Challenger breaking up over the Kennedy Space Center on January 28, 1986 will haunt our collective memory forever. A major structural failure in the O-rings on one of the solid rocket booster caused the Challenger to explode about 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed.
Columbia was returning home to Florida in February 2003 when communication was lost with the Shuttle around 9am local time. A thermal protection tile damaged during take-off caused a catastrophic breakup of the vessel in mid-flight. The spacecraft was flying at an altitude of approximately 62,000 metres and travelling about mach 18 (20,000km/h). Debris from the Shuttle Columbia was scattered about Texas and Louisiana. All seven astronauts on board the spacecraft were killed. All I could remember is the eerie radio silence when Columbia disintegrated during re-entry on February 1, 2003. Unlike with Apollo 13, there was no "Hello Houston!" after it.
These are the men and women who died to make the world a better place, knowing that they could die trying.
Let's take a moment to think about them.
S. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe: Teacher in Space Participant. Christa McAuliffe was a school teacher from Concord, NH. She was selected by the NASA Teacher in Space Project on July 19, 1985 and joined the crew as a payload specialist. She flew her first and only Shuttle mission on STS 51-L Challenger. She is survived by husband Steven and two children.
Francis R. (Dick) Scobee: Spacecraft Commander. Born in the State of Washington, Mr Scobee earned his Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona in 1965. He joined the Air Force and earned his wings in 1966. During his time in the Air Force, Scobee logged more than 6500 hours flying time in 45 types of aircraft. He joined NASA in August 1979 and flew as the pilot of STS 41-C Challenger which launched on April 6, 1984. Scobee was spacecraft commander on STS 51-L Challenger. He is survived by his wife, June and two children.
Ellison Onizuka (Colonel, USAF): Mission Specialist. Mr Onizuka was born in Hawaii and received his Master's degree in Aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. He joined the Air Force and rose to the rank of Colonel which was awarded posthumously. He joined NASA as an astronaut in 1979 and flew his first Space Shuttle flight on January 24, 1985 in STS 51-C Discovery. He was a mission specialist on the final flight of STS 51-L Challenger. He is survived by his wife, Lorna, and two daughters.
Gregory Jarvis: Payload Specialist. Gregory Jarvis was a Michigan native and electrical engineer who worked in the Air Force and aerospace industry for 15 years. He joined the Space Shuttle program in 1984 as a payload specialist candidate. His first and only Space Shuttle flight was on STS 51-L Challenger. Jarvis is survived by his wife, Marcia.
Judith Resnik (PhD): Mission Specialist. Judith Resnik, an electrical engineer, joined NASA in 1979 after several years of employment with RCA, the National Institute of Health and Xerox. Dr. Resnik first flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-D Discovery which launched on August 30, 1984. She was a mission specialist on STS 51-L Challenger.
Michael J. Smith (Captain, USN): Pilot. Michael Smith graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967 and earned a Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School in 1968. He earned his aviator wings in 1969 and flew as a Navy Pilot until joining NASA in 1981. A Captain in the Navy, Smith flew his first Shuttle Mission as a pilot on STS 51-L Challenger. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and their three children.
Ronald McNair (Ph.D.): Mission Specialist. Ronald McNair was a physicist from MIT who joined the Space Shuttle program in 1979 as an Astronaut. He flew his first Space Shuttle Flight on February 3 1984 in the Challenger and was the mission specialist on the final flight of STS 51-L Challenger. He is survived by his wife Cheryl, and their two children.
Kalpana Chawla (Ph.D.): Mission Specialist. Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India, and earned her bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College, India. She earned a Master's degree in aerospace engineering from University of Texas and a Ph.D in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado. Chawla was selected by NASA in December 1994 and worked as a crew representative in the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches. She flew on STS-87 Columbia (1997) and STS-107 Columbia in 2003. She is survived by her husband.
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, MD (Captain, USN): Mission Specialist. Laurel Clark was born in Iowa, but considered Racine, Wisconsin, to be her hometown. She received a bachelor's degree in zoology and a doctorate in medicine from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She joined the Navy where she trained in underwater medicine and pediatrics. She was designated an Undersea Medical Officer and then a Naval Flight Surgeon. Clark was selected by NASA in April 1996 and joined STS-107 Columbia as a mission specialist STS-107, her first and only Space Shuttle mission. She is survived by her husband and their child.
David Brown (Captain, USN): Mission Specialist. Born April 16, 1956 in Arlington, Virginia, Brown received Bachelor's degree in biology from the College of William and Mary and a doctorate in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School. Brown joined the Navy after his internship at the Medical University of South Carolina. In 1988, he was the only flight surgeon in a 10-year period to be chosen for pilot training. Brown logged over 2700 flight hours with 1700 in high performance military aircraft including the A-6E Intruder, F-18 Hornet and T-38 Talon. Selected by NASA in April 1996, he was a mission specialist on STS-107, his first and only Space Shuttle mission.
Michael Anderson (Lieutenant Colonel, USAF): Mission Specialist. Michael Anderson was born in Plattsburgh, New York in 1959, but considered Spokane, Washington, to be his hometown. He earned a Bachelor's degree in physics/astronomy from the University of Washington and a Master's degree in physics from Creighton University. He joined the USAF where he served as an EC-135 pilot, flying for several refuelling squadrons. Anderson logged over 3000 hours in various models of the KC-135 and the T-38A aircraft. He was selected by NASA in December 1994 and flew on both the STS-89 Endeavour in 1998 and the STS-107 Columbia in 2003 as a mission specialist. He is survived by his wife and children.
Rick Husband (Colonel, USAF): Commander. Born in Amarillo, Texas, Husband earned a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University and a Master's degree in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno. He entered the Air Force and began his pilot training in the F-4. Husband served as a test pilot and flew the F-4 and all five models of the F-15. He logged over 3800 hours of flight time in more than 40 different types of aircraft before joining NASA as an astronaut candidate in December 1994. He served in an administrative capacity in the Astronaut Office of NASA and piloted the STS-96 Discovery in June 1999. He was Crew Commander for the STS-107 Columbia. Husband is survived by his wife and their two children.
William McCool: Pilot. Born 1961 in San Diego, California, McCool was an avid outdoorsman. He earned a Bachelor's degree in applied science from the US Naval Academy and two Master's degrees, one in Computer Science and another in Aeronautical Engineering. He entered the Navy where he served as a TA-4J and EA-6B test pilot. McCool accrued over 2800 hours flight time in 24 aircraft and over 400 carrier deployments. He was selected by NASA in April 1996 was the pilot on STS-107, his first and only Space Shuttle mission. He is survived by his wife and children.