Posts Tagged ‘the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial’

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In addition to the individual graves of those buried in Arlington National Cemetery, there are also a number of monuments and memorials.  The most well-known of which is the iconic Tomb of the Unknowns. But there are also dozens of other monuments and memorials to a variety of people, groups and events interspersed throughout the cemetery’s 624 acres. And on this lunchtime bike ride, I sought out and found the memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The Space Shuttle Columbia was the first orbiter in NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet.  It launched for the first flight of the Space Shuttle Program on April 12, 1981, and provided over 22 years of service, successfully completing 27 missions before tragedy struck on February 1, 2003.

Near the end of its 28th mission, as it was travelling at a rate of approximately 8,000 miles per hour, the Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.  This created a debris field which encompassed hundreds of miles across Northeast Texas and into Louisiana.  The orbitor’s disintegration resulted in the deaths of all seven crew members aboard, whose remains were found along with the the nose cap in Sabine County, Texas.  The crew members killed on its final mission were: Rick Husband, the Commander; William C. McCool, the Pilot; Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander/Mission Specialist 3; David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1; Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2; Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist 4; and Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1.   Nearly 84,000 pieces of debris from the orbitor were also found.  They are stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

Less than two months after the disaster, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003”. The “Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act” is contained in that supplemental appropriations act, which is now known as Public Law Number 108-11.  The Law authorized the Secretary of the Army, in consultation with NASA, to place the memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, accompanied by over 400 family members, former astronauts, and friends dedicated the memorial on February 2, 2004.

I found the memorial by using a new app I recently downloaded to my phone.  It is called ANC Explorer, and it’s a free app available for download for both iPhone and Android smartphones.  ANC Explorer can also be launched using a traditional computer, and accessed at the cemetery using the free WiFi available at the Welcome Center and Administration Building.  The app is also available for public use on computer kiosks at the cemetery.

ANC Ecxplorer allows users to locate gravesites and other points of interest throughout the cemetery by providing step-by-step directions to these locations.  The app also allows users to view and save front-and-back photos of a marker or monument.  Further, the app provides emergency and event notifications, self-guided tours, and the ability to share your experiences and photos on popular social media sites. Users can also save favorite places in the new “My Content” feature to create their own custom walking tours.

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Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

On this day in 1862, United States National Cemeteries were authorized by the Federal government. “United States national cemetery” is a designation for 146 nationally important cemeteries, which are generally military cemeteries containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses, but not exclusively so. Some national cemeteries, especially Arlington National Cemetery, contain the graves of important civilian leaders, to include U.S. Presidents, as well as other important national figures. Some national cemeteries, including Arlington, also contain sections for Confederate soldiers. More than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War, are also buried at Arlington National, with the designation “Civilian” or “Citizen” on their headstones. In addition to national cemeteries there are also state veteran cemeteries.

In observance of this, on this bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery, which is located in Arlington County, Virginia (MAP), directly across the Potomac River from The Lincoln Memorial . Arlington National is a U.S. military cemetery beneath whose 624 acres have been laid more than 400,000 casualties, and deceased veterans, of the nation’s conflicts beginning with the American Civil War. Arlington National also contains the reinterred dead from earlier wars, making it the only national cemetery to hold servicemen from every war in U.S. history.

The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, also known as Custis-Lee Mansion, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Custis Lee, who was also a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington.  The Lees had lived there for over thirty years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.  The government seized the property in 1864 as part of a dispute over a $92.07 tax bill, and began to use the property as a cemetery.  In 1882, almost twenty years later and more than a decade after Lee’s death, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government had seized his estate without due process and ordered it returned to his family in the same condition as when it was illegally confiscated. If followed, the ruling could have required the exhumation of all of Arlington’s dead, which at that time was approximately 17,000.  Instead, the Lee family officially sold the property to Congress for $150,000 the following year.

Arlington National Cemetery also houses a number of other memorials on its grounds, including the Tomb of the Unknowns, in honor of those who lay unidentified on the battlefields of freedom. Additional memorials at the cemetery include: the USS Maine Mast Memorial; the Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial; Chaplains Hill, which includes monuments to Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic military chaplains; the Confederate Memorial dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; the Eternal Flame marking President John F. Kennedy’s grave; the Lockerbie Cairn Memorial to the 270 killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorials, as well as; a section of burial ground for military personnel killed in the Global War on Terror.

It is listed as the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District  on the National Register of Historic Places.  But despite its rich history, it is important to remember that Arlington National Cemetery is still an active cemetery.  It averages about 5,000 funerals each year.  Funerals are normally conducted six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Arlington averages 27 to 30 funerals, including interments and inurnments, each and every weekday.  And six to eight services on Saturdays.  It is for this reason that the flags on the cemetery grounds are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until a half hour after the last funeral each day.

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