Astronauts Honored before Challenger Anniversary

Henry Cruz, lower right, looks at a space shuttle Challenger replica honoring USAF Colonel Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese American astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986, at a memorial Wednesday Jan. 26, 2011 in Los Angeles. Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger which killed seven astronauts. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) AP

CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA paused Thursday to remember the 17 astronauts lost in the line of duty.

The so-called Day of Remembrance — always the last Thursday of January — has special meaning this year. Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the shuttle Challenger launch disaster.

Flags flew at half-staff at NASA centers nationwide. In addition, NASA officials laid wreathes at various memorials to honor the dead, including at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

NASA to Mark Space Tragedy Anniversaries

NASA's three space-related fatalities occurred within days of one another but years apart. Three astronauts were killed in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Seven more died aboard Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. And the seven-member crew of Columbia perished during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.

Remembering Fallen Astronauts

"The legacy of those who have perished is present every day in our work and inspires generations of new space explorers," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "Every day, with each new challenge we overcome and every discovery we make, we honor these remarkable men and women."

Bolden took part in wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
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