BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – It was a day of remembrance, marking 35 years since the Challenger accident when the space shuttle broke apart just 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members on board.
“We really remember the Challenger. It was traumatic to witness it,” Janet Juell said.
Janet and her husband, David Juell, visited from Colorado to attend the ceremony.
“It really touches us. When we heard about this event, we said ‘We need to be a part of it,’” David Juell said.
Mike Leimbach is a retired space shuttle launch director for NASA. With social distancing and masks, he said he’s proud so many still came out to show their support.
“They paved the way for where we are now. We learned from our mistakes and we were complacent during the Challenger accident, leading up to it,” Leimbach said. “I feel confident and assured the agency’s [gotten] better and the complacency and arrogance in our success is no longer a part of the programs.”
During the ceremony, the names of each fallen astronaut were read aloud followed by the ringing of a bell.
Roger Chaffee was one of the youngest astronauts, killed during a demonstration test for the Apollo 1 mission in 1967. His daughter, Sheryl, was only eight years old.
“He was a very good man -- passionate. He was totally dedicated to the space program and passionate about his family,” she said. “It’s been a long time and I really miss him.”
Sheryl attends the NASA remembrance ceremony every year at Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex.
“I feel like I need to represent my family and let everyone know that we’re proud of what the astronauts have done, and that they recognize and care for us,” Sheryl said.
At the end of the ceremony, each visitor laid flowers to honor the lives lost in the NASA program as a symbol of hope for the future of space exploration.