These 10 Brave Astronauts Died in Space, And Here Are Their Stories

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Space exploration is one of the most exciting topics in the news today. Thanks to SpaceX and their partnership with NASA, the potential to explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy have never been closer. 

As much as we all enjoy talking about the possibilities of space travel, however, space exploration carries a risk unlike any other job. In fact, many brave astronauts have lost their lives carrying out space missions.

Here are just a few stories of the brave astronauts who lost their lives during ground-breaking space exploration. You can visit many of their graves to pay your respects along with other famous graves throughout the United States.

1. Gus Grissom from Apollo 1 mission, 1967

Gus Grissom was the second American in outer space. Before his recruitment by NASA, he worked in the Air Force and was a veteran of the Korean War. His dedication to serving his country coupled with his educational background earned him an invitation to participate in NASA’s recruitment process.

Grissom had a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1950, a B.S. in aeromechanics from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and was an experienced pilot. He passed all NASA's physical and psychological examinations with flying colors and was selected in the first batch of astronauts.

Grimsson was assigned to the Apollo 1 mission in 1965. His unfortunate death happened when the spacecraft cabin caught fire during a test launch. Grissom was 40 years old at the time.

His outstanding career and contribution to space studies made an impact on space exploration history, and he received numerous recognitions after his death, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Posthumous recognition of lifetime achievements is a common part of what happens to you after you die when a death is unexpected.

2. Edward White from Apollo 1 mission, 1967

Astronaut Edward White was the first American to walk in space. Edward came from a family of pilots, his father served in the Air Force and earned the rank of major general, and his uncle also had a military career.

Edward attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduated with a B.S., and served abroad in Germany. He pursued further schooling and received an M.S. in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan. 

After obtaining his master’s degree, he was selected in NASA’s second round of recruitment from a pool of 200 applicants. He trained at NASA’s facilities and later became the first American to walk in space in mission Gemini 4.  

For the Apollo 1 mission, Edward was assigned as the senior pilot. Sadly, he passed away in the tragic Apollo 1 accident when fire mixed with oxygen in the cabin.

Edward White died at 36 years of age and received numerous recognitions for his work in space. The Apollo 1 crew received military honors during their memorial service.

3. Roger Chaffee from Apollo 1, 1967

Roger Chaffee was the youngest member of the Apollo 1 mission. Had the mission been successful, it would have been his first mission into space. 

Throughout his life, Roger accrued diverse experiences as a Boy Scout, a teaching assistant, and a draftsman. He earned the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC)  scholarship and obtained a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1957. In addition, he obtained a pilot license and an M.S. in reliability engineering at the U.S Air Force Institute of Technology. 

After applying to join NASA’s third round of recruitment for astronauts, he was selected in 1963. He specialized in communications and served as a capsule communicator for Gemini 3 and Gemini 4.

His first assignment to space was the Apollo 1 mission. He was 31 years old at the time of the accident and lost his life alongside astronauts Edward White and Gus Grissom. Apollo 1 is one of the most famous disasters at NASA and the tragedy was a turning point to improve space capsule construction for following missions. 

4. Rick Husband from STS-107, 2003

Astronaut Rick Husband obtained his pilot’s license at 17 years old and earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University at 23. In 1994, Rick was selected by NASA to be an astronaut. 

He trained for one year at Johnson Space Center before he was assigned as pilot for mission STS-96 in 1999 and commander for STS-107 in 2003.

Mission STS-107, also known as the space shuttle Columbia mission, was a 16-day project to perform scientific experimentation and research. During the 16 days in space, the crew executed over 80 different experiments, working 24 hours a day in shifts. 

After having collected valuable data and information, the crew headed back to Earth. As the shuttle was re-entering the Earth’s surface, parts took on damage, and the spacecraft disintegrated, taking the life of all 7 astronauts in the process.

5. Kalpana Chawla from STS-107, 2003

Kalpana was a highly educated engineer. Originally from India, she moved to the US to study for an M.S. in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas and then a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in Boulder. 

Before taking part in mission STS-107, she had participated in a previous mission that utilized the same space shuttle. 

For STS-107, she was assigned the role of mission specialist. Unfortunately, after successfully completing 16 days in space, a spacecraft malfunction caused the death of Kalpana and the rest of the crew as they were about to land on Earth. While re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the left-wing of an important component of the space shuttle was damaged, causing the spacecraft to fall apart and disintegrate.

Kalpana died in a space mission at 41 years old and was the first Indian woman to go to space. After her death, she was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and received many recognitions from both the US and India.

6. William McCool from STS-107, 2003

William McCool was selected by NASA in 1996. A couple of years before his training at Johnson Space Center, he earned an M.S. in computer science from the University of Maryland and an M.S. in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. During his naval career, McCool accrued over 2,800 hours in the air.

Mission STS-107 was his first time in space. He, along with the rest of his crew, gained valuable time in space during their days in orbit. Unfortunately, he died in the accident just minutes before the shuttle touched down in Texas. After the tragic accident, He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor among other honors.

7. Michael Anderson from STS-107, 2003

Astronaut Michael Anderson had a B.S. degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in physics from Creighton University.

He was selected by NASA in 1994 and began his training in 1995. He’d already been to space before being assigned to the STS-107 mission. He was part of mission STS-89 as a mission specialist, transporting more than 90,000 pounds of equipment and logistics to the Mir Space Station, the predecessor of the current International Space Station. 

The STS-107 mission, the Columbia shuttle mission, was his second time in space. Unfortunately, he perished during the accident and was awarded numerous recognitions posthumously for his contributions to space exploration.

8. David Brown from STS-107, 2003

Astronaut David Brown had a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary, and a Doctorate in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School. After completing his medical training, he enrolled in the Navy Branch Hospital in Alaska and received further military training in various projects across the country. 

When he was selected by NASA in 1996, he trained for two years and was assigned the role of mission specialist in the STS-107 mission. Sadly, he perished alongside the crew when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. After his death, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

9. Laurel Clark STS-107, 2003

With a B.S. degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in medicine from the University of Wisconsin, astronaut Laurel Clark was highly educated. She actively participated in United States Navy projects that dealt with scientific experimentation. 

After many years of training, she underwent another 6-month aeromedical training period at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Florida and was designated Naval Flight surgeon. In 1996, she was selected by NASA and began her training to become an astronaut. 

She was assigned to mission STS-107 and contributed to over 80 experiments conducted during their time in space. She perished alongside the rest of the crew during the descent back to Earth. She was 41 years old.

10. Ilan Ramon STS-107, 2003

Ilan Ramon was the first Israeli in space and the only foreign recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Before being selected by NASA, he had an extensive pilot career in Israel. In addition, he held a B.S. degree in electronics and computer engineering from Tel Aviv University. 

In 1997, he was selected by NASA and was assigned the role of payload specialist for the STS-107 mission. He died in space at 48 years of age alongside the crew. 

Honored in Life, Remembered in Death 

Unknown circumstances and variables are always present in any kind of job. Those who dedicate their lives to space exploration, however, know the risks before they even strap themselves into a space shuttle. These men and women should be honored and remembered for their incredible contributions to the space program and the inspiration they provide for us all to reach after our dreams.


Sources

  1. Garber, Steve. “Edward Higgons White II.” NASA History, NASA, August 4, 2006. history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/white.html
  2. 2.Garber, Steve. “Roger Chaffe.” NASA History, NASA, August 4, 2006. www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Apollo204/chaffee.html
  3. 3.Garber, Steve. “Virgil Grissom.” NASA History, NASA, August 4, 2006. history.nasa.gov/Apollo204/grissom.html
  4. Dismukes, Kim. “Rick Husband” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, December 3, 2004. spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/husband.html
  5. Dismukes, Kim. “William McCool” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, January 28, 2004. spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/mccool.html
  6. Dismukes, Kim. “Michael Anderson” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, January 28, 2004. spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/anderson.html
  7. Dismukes, Kim. “David Brown” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, December 3, 2004. spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/brown.html
  8. Dismukes, Kim. “Kalpana Chalwa.” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, December 3, 2004.spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/chawla.html
  9. Dismukes, Kim. “Laurel Clark” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, December 3, 2004. spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/clark.html
  10. Dismukes, Kim. “Ilan Ramon.” STS-107 Crew Memorial, NASA, December 3, 2004.spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-107/memorial/ramon.html
  11. Mission Information nasa.gov/specials/dor2020/#:~:text=Each%20January%20NASA%20pauses,30.
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