The Rocket City Remembers

At the end of January each year, Huntsville remembers the astronauts who lost their lives pursuing the American dream of exploring space.  Grissom High School held its Virgil I Grissom/Apollo 1 Tribute Assembly to recognize the 50th anniversary of the tragedy on Friday, January 27th. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Marshall Space Flight Center held their NASA Day of Remembrance ceremonies on Tuesday, January 31.


The Space and Rocket Center’s audience, made up of Space Campers from the USA, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates, media, members of the community, and tourists, were reminded of the inspirational lives and dedication of NASA’s fallen. Marshall Deputy Director Jody Singer reminded us that “as we build today the Space Launch System which has the power to put humans in space” that we should remember our mistakes, push forward, and remember the passion of the explorers we were honoring.  She reminded us that “This past year we have lost former astronaut Gene Cernan, who was the last man to walk on the moon and former astronaut and Senator John Glenn.” She also mentioned how many people were behind the scenes at NASA making it all possible as in the popular movie “Hidden Figures.”

Robert “Hoot” Gibson, former astronaut, mentioned that we were there “to remember the mistakes of the past and learn from them, but more, to remember the people.” He listed the many astronauts NASA has lost over the years, not only the crews of Columbia and Challenger, which he knew, but also the crew of Apollo 1, and other astronauts such as Alan Shephard, Sally Ride, and Janice Voss. While discussing the SLS (Space Launch System) being tested at Marshall he concluded, “from our space past we have built our space future.”


In the crowd there was a boy of 6 years old, Jesse, and his mom, Angela Beavers, of Huntsville. They spent a lot of time at the Space and Rocket Center this summer. “I wanted him to see this,” Beavers said, “He loves space, he loves rockets. It’s his thing.” Jesse, future Space Camper, and who knows, astronaut, shyly lined up for his photo opp with the astronaut, Hoot Gibson, and then went inside to his promised meal at the Mars Grill. I remembered being his age, at my grandmother’s during the school day because of the chicken pox, and watching the Challenger launch in great anticipation that quickly turned to sadness and shock as my 6 year old brain accepted instantly what it took the horrified people on TV a few seconds to realize. I think space travel has become this oddly normal thing for most people, who don’t recognize the scientific achievement, the teamwork, the belief, and the drive to explore that leads people into space. It can’t be that normal for people who saw the moon landing live, or remember the horror accompanying the tragedies of Apollo 1, the Challenger, or Columbia. At the risk of sounding ancient at only 37, these young people don’t realize….. But, at the Space and Rocket Center at the remembrance I saw some younger people who “got it.” The space campers of the UAE, Taiwan, and the USA, as well as little Jesse, see the magic of space travel, that is, science at the pinnacle of human achievement. These younger people see, and they will remember.




Virgil I. Grissom High School’s principal, Becky Balentine, received a plaque for the school in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 1 at Grissom’s remembrance ceremony. Members of the community and NASA were in attendance as well as Grissom’s students.





For further reading/ listening:

Summary of the Apollo 1 tragedy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Summary of Columbia Disaster on

Loren Grush interviews her parents, NASA engineers, about the Columbia tragedy — 35 minute podcast and very interesting

Infographic with summary of the Challenger disaster on

First Man to Orbit the Earth, Oldest Man in Space: NASA Profile of John Glenn

Last Man on the Moon: Gene Cernan’s Official Website