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Published on Thursday, August 6, 2020
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Published on Monday, August 3, 2020

Astronauts

Gravesites of Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, who lost their lives in a fire aboard Apollo 1

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created by the National Aeronautics and Space Act, signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. The new agency (which absorbed the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, its predecessor) began operations on October 1, 1959, with 8,000 employees and a budget of $100 million. The first astronauts were all highly skilled test pilots with military experience. When NASA began selecting candidates for astronaut training in 1959, it asked the service branches to provide lists of personnel who met certain strict criteria; candidates had to be qualified jet pilots and graduates of test pilot school, with a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying time. During NASA's first two decades, those selected to become astronauts tended to be current or former military pilots. The military background of early astronauts explains why many of them are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. This also explains why there were no women astronauts until 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. 

Four of the astronauts at Arlington (Smith, Griggs, Conrad and Roosa) have privately purchased headstones. The others have regulation government headstones identifying their service branch and rank; only some chose to include the designation of astronaut. 


Project Mercury (1958-1963)

John Herschel Glenn Jr., U.S. Marine Corps (1921-2016): One of NASA's seven original Project Mercury astronauts, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, circling it three times in his "Friendship 7" capsule on February 20, 1962. A decorated fighter pilot, he flew 59 combat missions during World War II and 90 combat missions in Korea. After the Korean War, he served as a naval test pilot, accomplishing the first transcontinental supersonic flight in 1957. After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1965, Col. Glenn pursued a successful career as a businessman and politician. Elected to the Senate in 1974, he served four consecutive terms as a Democrat from Ohio. In 1988, Glenn returned to space on a nine-day Space Shuttle Discovery mission — becoming, at age 77, the oldest person to go to space. John Glenn died in 2016 at the age of 95. His many honors include six Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal with 18 Clusters, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. (Section 35, Grave 1543)

Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom , U.S. Air Force (1926-1967) — Lt. Col. Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom was killed on January 27, 1967, along with fellow astronauts Lt. Cmdr. Roger B. Chaffee  and Lt. Col. Ed White, in a fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft during a launch rehearsal at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Selected as one of the original "Mercury Seven," Grissom was an accomplished fighter pilot who had flown 100 missions during the Korean War and subsequently tested fighter jets for the Air Force. On July 21, 1961, he became the second NASA astronaut in space (after Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr.). When he piloted Gemini 3 on March 23, 1965, he became the first American to venture into space twice. He was assigned to command the first crewed Apollo mission. Grissom is buried next to Roger Chaffee (see below). (Section 3, Grave 2503-E)


Project Gemini (1961-1966) 

Charles A. Bassett II, U.S. Air Force (1931-1966) — A member of NASA's Group 3 Astronaut Class, Maj. Charles A. Bassett II was scheduled to fly Gemini 9 in the spring of 1966. On February 28, 1966, Bassett and Gemini 9 command pilot Elliot See died when their T-38 supersonic training jet crashed at Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri. Bassett and See are buried near each other. (Section 4, Grave 195) 

Theodore C. Freeman, U.S. Air Force (1930-1964) — A U.S. Air Force test pilot and aeronautical engineer, Capt. Theodore Freeman was selected to become an astronaut in 1963, as part of NASA's third "class." On the morning of October 31, 1964, he was piloting a T-38 supersonic jet trainer that crashed while returning to Ellington Air Base. Freeman was the first American to lose his life in the space program. (Section 4, Grave 3148-LH)

Elliot McKay See Jr., U.S. Navy Reserve (1927-1966) — Selected for the second group of NASA astronauts in 1962, Cmdr. Elliot McKay See Jr. was a Korean War veteran. He was assigned as backup pilot for Gemini 5 on February 8, 1965, becoming one of the first two civilians selected for a spaceflight; later that year, he was selected as command pilot for the Gemini 9 mission, with Charles A. Bassett II as the mission's pilot. On February 28, 1966, See and Bassett died when their T-38 supersonic training jet crashed at Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri. They are buried near each other. (Section 4, Grave 208)

Clifton C. Williams Jr., U.S. Marine Corps (1932-1967) — NASA Group 3 Astronaut class member Maj. Clifton C. "C.C." Williams served as backup pilot for the Gemini 10 mission in 1966. On October 5, 1967, as Williams was flying to visit his parents in Mobile, Alabama, his T-38 jet crashed in Florida following a mechanical failure. At the time of his death, he was training to be a lunar module pilot for a future Apollo mission. (Section 3, Grave 2503-H-1)


Project Apollo (1961-1972)

Roger B. Chaffee, U.S. Navy (1935-1967) — A member of NASA's third group of astronauts, Lt. Cmdr. Roger Chaffee served as capsule communicator for Gemini 4 in 1965, and was selected to be a pilot on the first Apollo mission. On January 27, 1967 — a few months before its scheduled launch — the Apollo capsule caught fire during a launch rehearsal at Cape Canaveral, Florida, killing the three astronauts aboard: Chaffee, Lt. Col. Virgil Ivan "Gus" Grissom (see above) and Lt. Col. Ed White. Chaffee and Grissom are buried next to one another. (Section 3, Grave 2502-F)

Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., U.S. Navy (1930-1999) — The third human to walk on the moon, Cpt. Pete Conrad commanded the Apollo 12 mission from November 14 to 24, 1969. Selected for the second group of NASA astronauts in 1962, Conrad went to space four times: as copilot of Gemini 5 (1965), command pilot of Gemini 11 (1966), command pilot of Apollo 12 (1960) and commander of Skylab 2 (1973). After retiring from NASA and the Navy in 1973, he held executive positions at the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation, and in 1996 helped crew a Learjet that set a record for fastest around-the-world flight. (Section 11, Grave 113-3)

Donn F. Eisele, U.S. Air Force (1930-1987) — Col. Donn Eisele served as command module pilot for Apollo 7, the first crewed mission of the Apollo program, from October 11 to 22, 1968. In his post-NASA career, Eisele directed the Peace Corps in Thailand for two years. (Section 3, Grave 2503-G-1)

James Benson Irwin, U.S. Air Force (1930-1991)  Col. James Irwin piloted the lunar module for the Apollo 15 mission (July 26-August 7, 1971) and spent nearly three days on the moon's surface. He later founded a Christian evangelical organization, the High Flight Foundation, and credited his experiences in space with his spiritual reawakening.  (Section 3, Grave 2503-G-2) 

Stuart A. Roosa, U.S. Air Force (1933-1994) — Before joining the Air Force, Stuart Roosa worked as a smoke jumper for the U.S. Forest Service, parachuting into remote locations to put out wildfires. He was the command module pilot for Apollo 14 (January 31 to February 9, 1971), the third lunar landing mission. At the request of the Forest Service director, Col. Roosa carried hundreds of seeds with him on that mission, which were later planted to become "moon trees" throughout the United States. (Section 7A, Grave 73)


Space Shuttle (1981-2011) 

S. David Griggs, U.S. Navy Reserve (1939-1989) — Rear Adm. S. David Griggs went into space as a mission specialist on STS-51-D, the fourth flight of Space Shuttle Discovery, in April 1985. On June 17, 1989, he was performing aerobatic maneuvers in a World War II-era plane, which crashed and killed him. At the time of his death, Griggs was preparing for a classified Department of Defense shuttle mission scheduled for November 1989. (Section 7A, Grave 81)

Robert F. Overmyer, U.S. Marine Corps (1936-1996) — Selected for NASA's astronaut corps in 1969, Col. Robert Overmyer worked as an engineer on the Skylab Program (1969-1971) and served as a support crew member for Apollo 17 (December 1972), the final Project Apollo mission. In 1982, he piloted STS-5, the first fully operational flight of the space shuttle, and in 1985 commanded the Spacelab 3 mission. After retiring from the military, he test piloted experimental civilian aircraft, and lost his life in a plane crash. (Section 23, Grave 22469)

Stephen D. Thorne, U.S. Navy (1953-1986) — Lt. Cmdr. Stephen D. Thorne was selected to join NASA's astronaut corps in 1985. He was training to become a space shuttle pilot when he died in the crash of a stunt plane on May 24, 1986. (Section 7A, Grave 135)

David M. Walker, U.S. Navy (1940-2001) — Selected as an astronaut in 1978 for the new space shuttle program, Capt. Walker logged more than 700 hours in space during four missions: STS 51-A, Space Shuttle Discovery, 1984; STS-30, Atlantis, 1989; STS-53, Discovery, 1992; and STS-69, Endeavor, 1995. The May 1989 Discovery mission, which Walker commanded, launched the Magellan Venus probe. (Section 66, Grave 5191)


The Challenger Memorial, honoring the crew that died in the 1986 space shuttle disaster

Space Shuttle Challenger: January 28, 1986 

On January 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded just 78 seconds after takeoff, killing all aboard — including Christa McAuliffe, selected to become the first teacher in space. The unidentified, commingled remains of all seven Challenger astronauts are buried beneath the Challenger Memorial in Section 46. Remains of two astronauts that could be identified are also buried in individual graves, as noted below.

  • Lt. Col. Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, U.S. Air Force (Section 46, Grave 1129-4)
  • Capt. Michael J. Smith, U.S. Navy (Section 7A, Grave 208-1)
  • Mr. Gregory B. Jarvis
  • Dr. Ronald E. McNair
  • Ms. Sharon Christa McAuliffe
  • Lt. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka, U.S. Air Force
  • Dr. Judith A. Resnik 

Space Shuttle Columbia: February 1, 2003

On February 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia was headed home after a 16-day scientific mission, its 28th venture into space, when it suddenly exploded. All seven crew members perished. Their commingled remains are buried beneath the Columbia Memorial, in Section 46 next to the Challenger Memorial. Those who could be identified individually also have individual gravesites.  

  • Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, U.S. Air Force (Section 46, Grave 1180-1) 
  • Capt. David M. Brown, U.S. Navy, (Section 46, Grave 1180-3)
  • Capt. Laurel Blair Salton Clark, M.D., U.S. Navy (Section 46, Grave 1180-2)
  • Dr. Kalpana Chawla
  • Col. Rick D. Husband, U.S. Air Force
  • Cmdr. William C. McCool, U.S. Navy
  • Col. Ilan Ramon, Israeli Air Force

See also: