The Day of Remembrance honors the 17 NASA astronauts who died in the agency’s three tragedies — the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and the destruction of the shuttle Columbia in 2003.
These three accidents all occurred between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1 in their respective years, which is why the Day of Remembrance is held in late January or early February. This year, it was scheduled for Jan. 31, but NASA announced last week that the agency was postponing the day because of the partial government shutdown.
The shutdown is now over, after a record-setting 35 days, so NASA can start planning for this year’s memorial activities.
“More information will be coming out on the time and those kind of things, but just know it’s Feb. 7 at Arlington National Cemetery — a critical time for us to reflect on all the sacrifices that have been made,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday during a webcast “town hall” address to agency employees. (The main purpose of the town hall was to answer questions about how NASA will get back up to speed after the shutdown.)
Such reflections will be especially timely and important, Bridenstine added, given that SpaceX plans to launch the first mission of its Crew Dragon astronaut taxi to the International Space Station (ISS) later in February. The flight, known as Demo-1, will be uncrewed. But if everything goes well, SpaceX plans to launch astronauts to the orbiting lab in June.
Astronauts haven’t launched to orbit from American soil since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. Since then, the agency has been dependent on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to provide crew transportation to and from the ISS.
SpaceX isn’t the only company working to change this situation. NASA also signed a commercial crew contract with Boeing, which is developing a capsule called the CST-100 Starliner. That craft is currently scheduled to launch on its maiden uncrewed flight to the ISS in March and make its first crewed trip in August.