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Triumph and Tragedy

Along the way towards achieving the many triumphs of America's space program, the nation also endured sacrifices, setbacks, and tragedies. Through the work of the space program, the United States achieved significant social milestones as well and added, and continues to add, greatly to our knowledge of our world and the universe it inhabits.

Space Shuttle Challenger liftoff (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger liftoff (1986)

Image Number: PR10268

Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off Pad 30B, with a crew of seven astronauts. An accident 73 seconds after liftoff claimed both the crew and vehicle. January 23, 1986.

Vanguard launching an earth satellite: Cape Canaveral Florida (1958)

Vanguard launching an earth satellite: Cape Canaveral Florida (1958)

Image Number: C028011

Apollo 11 takeoff (1969)

Apollo 11 takeoff (1969)

Image Number: PR10284

First manned moon landing with Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

The men who walked on the moon (1969)

The men who walked on the moon (1969)

Image Number: PR10288

With all of the great successes of NASA witnessed by Americans at the Kennedy Space Center, there have been tragedies as well. A fire on the launch pad during preparation for the first scheduled Apollo flight on January 27, 1967, took the lives of the three-man crew in the Apollo I capsule. Nineteen years later, an explosion 73 seconds after the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger killed the entire crew while millions of people watched the launch both at the Cape and on television around the country.

During its landing descent to Kennedy Space Center, February 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia exploded killing the entire seven-member crew. NASA has preserved the more than 83,000 pieces of debris retrieved from eastern Texas, which are now housed in the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building to allow access for future aerospace research.

The achievements of America's space program were not limited to successful launchings, moon landings, and exploratory missions. Through NASA and the quest to explore space, social barriers as well as physical ones were broken through. In 1983, physicist and astronaut Sally Ride became first American woman and youngest American (at the time) to travel in space. After joining NASA in 1978, Ride performed crucial research and development work and logged hundreds of hours in space. Since leaving the program, Dr. Ride enjoyed a successful career in academia, as a public scientist, and as a writer and creator of a company that designs science tools for younger students, Sally Ride Science.

Also launching from Kennedy Space Center in 1983, Colonel Guion Bluford became the first black American in space as a member of the crew for the Space Shuttle Challenger. As a distinguished pilot in the Air Force, Col. Bluford flew more than 140 combat missions during the Vietnam War. In 1978, Col. Bluford completed a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. As an astronaut, Col. Bluford logged nearly 700 hours in space and made significant contributions to space shuttle and space lab design before continuing his career as an executive in the private aeronautics industry.

Crew members of the 7th space Shuttle orbital flight (1983)

Crew members of the 7th space Shuttle orbital flight (1983)

Image Number: PR10262

L-R: Sally Ride, John Fabian, Robert Crippen, Norman Thagard, Rick Hauck.

Autographed by Sally K. Ride.

First black American in space, astronaut Guion Bluford Jr., recognized for his accomplishments by Florida A&M University with an honorary degree: Tallahassee, Florida (1983)

First black American in space, astronaut Guion Bluford Jr., recognized for his accomplishments by Florida A&M University with an honorary degree: Tallahassee, Florida (1983)

Image Number: PR20634

"Florida A&M University President Walter Smith, left, confers an Honorary Doctor of Science degree on NASA Astronaut Guion Bluford Jr., the first black American in space, during ceremonies Friday."

Space Shuttle Challenger seconds before the accident (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger seconds before the accident (1986)

Image Number: PR10277

Space Shuttle Challenger accident (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger accident (1986)

Image Number: PR10269

Flight for the Challenger Seven memorial services (1986)

Flight for the Challenger Seven memorial services (1986)

Image Number: PR10275a

A formation-flying trio of NASA T-38 jet trainer aircraft is photographed by a fourth member as the four jets overfly the San Jacinto monument area.