Every January NASA hosts a remembrance day to honor the astronauts who died during the Challenger, Apollo 1 and Columbia tragedies.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Winter every year marks a somber time in spaceflight as NASA remembers the astronauts who died while furthering human space exploration.
Three of the most tragic events in spaceflight occurred between the end of January and early February across five decades. NASA will pay tribute to their legacies during the agency's annual Day of Remembrance this Thursday.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will lead an observance at Arlington National Ceremony in Virginia. Events are also held at Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Glenn Research Center.
The American Space Museum in Titusville, Florida, also hosts its annual Astronaut Memorial Ceremony to honor the legacy of the astronauts. The event happens at Sand Point Park on Jan. 29 with remarks from astronaut Winston Scott and a 21-gun salute.
Watch a replay of the ceremony at Kennedy Space Center below:
Jan. 27 marks the 55th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy when three astronauts – Lt. Col. Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Lt. Col. Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee-- were killed in a flash fire inside the Apollo command module during a test on the Florida launchpad. The 1967 fire and the investigation later led to significant design and engineering changes to the Apollo program and new safety procedures.
The prime crew for Apollo 1, scheduled as the first manned Apollo space flight, at a press conference at the Manned Spacecraft Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 21st March 1966. Left to right: Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee. All three men were killed in a cabin fire during a launch pad test on January 27, 1967. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
Grissom was among the original Mercury 7 astronauts and a veteran of the Mercury and Gemini missions. White performed the first American spacewalk. Apollo 1 would have marked Chaffee's first spaceflight.
A ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Thursday was attended by Grissom's brother, Lowell Grissom and Chaffee's daughter, Sheryl Chaffee.
Decades later, NASA's space shuttle program would experience two devastating failures and the loss of 14 astronauts during the program's life.
On Jan. 28, 1986, 73 seconds after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Challenger exploded. The seven astronauts part of the STS-51L mission were killed after the explosion, including Michael J. Smith, Francis "Dick" Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith A. Resnik.
McAuliffe, of New Hampshire, was selected through NASA's teacher in space project and planned to educate school children from space. Her backup, Barbara Morgan, would become NASA’s first educator-astronaut, flying on space shuttle Endeavour in 2007.
The Astronaut Memorial Foundation was founded after the Challenger accident to honor fallen astronauts and those who died furthering human spaceflight.
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The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger walk out 28 January 1986 of NASA headquarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the way to their 7 day mission. Leading the crew is Commander Francis Scobee, followed by Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, teacher Christa Mcauliffe and Ellison Onizuka. (Photo by Bob PEARSON / AFP) (Photo by BOB PEARSON/AFP via Getty Images)
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CONCORD, NH - JANUARY 28: Mandana Marsh holds her daughter, Molly, 4, as they watch television coverage hours after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger inside their home in Concord, N.H., Jan. 28, 1986. When her mother explained what happened, Molly asked, "Can't Christa swim?" (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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Sequential photos, relased 15 February 1986, taken by NASA during the catastrophic flight of the Space shuttle Challenger, 28 January 1986, show a firey plume excaping from the right solid rocket booster and growing toward an explosion. 75 seconds after its launch, the Space shuttle Challenger blew up killing all seven crew. (Photo by - / NASA / AFP) (Photo by -/NASA/AFP via Getty Images)
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The space shuttle Challenger mission STS 51-L crew pose for a portrait while training at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch complex 39, Pad B in Florida this 09 January 1986 file photo. They are standing in the White Room during a break in countdown training. Left to right are Teacher in Space Payload Specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis; and Astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist. The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after lift-off on 28 January 1986, claimed the lives of the entire crew. AFP PHOTO / NASA (Photo by - / NASA / AFP) (Photo by -/NASA/AFP via Getty Images)
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Christa McAuliffe during a microgravity flight aboard NASA's KC-135 zero-gravity aircraft, January 8, 1986. Image courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
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Space Shuttle Challenger peering out from heavy mist as it makes its way to the launchpad ahead of its launch on 28 January 1986, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, in January 1986. The launch of STS-51-L ended in tragedy when the shuttle disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida, resulting in the deaths of Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
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The sky is reflected in the Space Mirror Memorial 28 January, 2006, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a service on the 20th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Seven crew members, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, died when the Challenger exploded before the eyes of the world in the live broadcast of the January 28, 1986 liftoff. Saturday's commemoration comes nearly three years after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon returning to Earth, killing all seven astronauts on board. The names of Columbia's crew are at center; the names of the Challenger crew are to the left. The black granite monument bears the names of the 24 astronauts who have died since 1964. AFP PHOTO/Robert SULLIVAN (Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP) (Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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File photo: A member of the US Army Honor Guard adjusts the wreaths at the memorial site crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger during rememberance ceremonies for the crews of Apollo 1, and the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia January 28, 2016, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Even though three spaceflight tragedies occurred during the winter months, Challenger is the only event tied to the weather. It was a bitterly cold January day for Florida on launch day, with temperatures below 40 degrees.
The investigation into the Challenger explosion found that the loss was caused by a failure in the joint between two lower segments of a solid rocket motor. An O-ring seal returned to its uncompressed shape during the 36 degrees Fahrenheit weather, causing the joint to fail.
As a result, the space shuttle solid rocket motor booster seal and joint were redesigned to withstand all weather conditions for liftoff.
This year marks the 36th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy.
A banner showing the photos of the Columbia space shuttle crew hangs from a fence near a makeshift memorial set up at one of the gates of the Houston Space Center in Houston, Texas, February 4, 2003. (Photo: JAMES NIELSEN/AFP/GettyImages)
Another spaceflight loss happened on Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke upon its return to Earth from space, killing the seven astronauts on the orbiter. Although the failure happened on the way home, the catastrophic event was caused during launch when falling foam from the shuttle's external tank hit the panels on the underside of Columbia's left-wing, ultimately causing the breach that led to the failure.
NASA Astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla and Israeli Space Agency astronaut Ilan Ramon, were lost about 15 minutes before Columbia was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center.
It has been 19 years since the Columbia disaster.
The space shuttle program would end in 2011, and until 2020 NASA relied on the Russian space agency Roscosmos to fly its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Now, American, European and Japanese astronauts launch on the Crew Dragon, a SpaceX spacecraft. The astronauts will have a second American spacecraft option to the ISS after Boeing completes its orbital test flight of the Starliner spacecraft, which is expected to happen later this year.