Thirty-five years to the day that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members on board, we honor the brave men and women who gave their lives in pursuit of space exploration.
The United States Space Program has been beneficial to the fire service in many ways.
In 1971, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) collaborated with NASA in Project FIRES (Firefighter Integrated Response Equipment System), a coordinated effort to leverage PBI and other technology developed for astronauts. This partnership led to better protective suit fabrics and international standards that help firefighters stay as safe as possible while in harm's way.
These standards later became codified in the National Fire Protection Association's official standards for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and they continue to help protect firefighters by ensuring that the suits they wear when fighting fires conform to tough specifications
Words pale in the shadow of grief; they seem insufficient even to measure the brave sacrifice of those you loved and we so admired. Their truest testimony will not be in the words we speak, but in the way they led their lives and in the way they lost those lives – with dedication, honor and an unquenchable desire to explore this mysterious and beautiful universe.
The best we can do is remember our seven astronauts – our Challenger Seven – remember them as they lived, bringing life and love and joy to those who knew them and pride to a nation.
They came from all parts of this great country – from South Carolina to Washington State; Ohio to Mohawk, New York; Hawaii to North Carolina to Concord, New Hampshire. They were so different, yet in their mission, their quest, they held so much in common.
We remember Dick Scobee, the commander who spoke the last words we heard from the space shuttle Challenger. He served as a fighter pilot in Vietnam, earning many medals for bravery, and later as a test pilot of advanced aircraft before joining the space program. Danger was a familiar companion to Commander Scobee.
We remember Michael Smith, who earned enough medals as a combat pilot to cover his chest, including the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals – and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, in gratitude from a nation that he fought to keep free.
We remember Judith Resnik, known as J.R. to her friends, always smiling, always eager to make a contribution, finding beauty in the music she played on her piano in her off-hours.
We remember Ellison Onizuka, who, as a child running barefoot through the coffee fields and macadamia groves of Hawaii, dreamed of someday traveling to the Moon. Being an Eagle Scout, he said, had helped him soar to the impressive achievement of his career.
We remember Ronald McNair, who said that he learned perseverance in the cotton fields of South Carolina. His dream was to live aboard the space station, performing experiments and playing his saxophone in the weightlessness of space; Ron, the nation misses your saxophone and we have built your space station.
We remember Gregory Jarvis. On that ill-fated flight he was carrying with him a flag of his university in Buffalo, New York – a small token he said, to the people who unlocked his future.
We remember Christa McAuliffe, who captured the imagination of the entire nation, inspiring us with her pluck, her restless spirit of discovery; a teacher, not just to her students, but to an entire people, instilling us all with the excitement of this journey we ride into the future.
We will always remember them, these skilled professionals, scientists and adventurers, these artists and teachers and family men and women, and we will cherish each of their stories – stories of triumph and bravery, stories of true American heroes.