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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...


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. 

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 1998, 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)

Richard F. Gordon, Jr. (U.S. Navy, 1929-2017) — A U.S. Navy captain and test pilot, Richard F. “Dick” Gordon was selected to become an astronaut in 1963. Two years prior, he had won the prestigious Bendix Trophy air race, piloting an F4H Phantom Jet that flew from Los Angeles to New York City in the record time of two hours and 47 minutes. These skills shaped his subsequent NASA career. Gordon piloted the three-day Gemini 11 mission in 1966, during which he performed two pioneering, arduous spacewalks. He then served as command module pilot on Apollo 12, the second lunar landing mission, in 1969. He spent more than 315 hours in space. After retiring from NASA, Gordon worked as an executive with the New Orleans Saints NFL football team and other companies. (Section 18, Grave 30047)

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)

Alan L. Bean, U.S. Navy (1932-2018) — One of just twelve people who have walked on the moon, Alan Bean served as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 12, the second lunar landing, in November 1969. In 1963, Bean was selected to join NASA’s third group of astronauts. He flew into space twice: first on Apollo 12, when he and Conrad landed on the moon’s Ocean of Storms and explored the lunar surface; and as commander of Skylab II, the second crewed flight to the Skylab space station, in the summer of 1973. During the latter mission, he spent 59 days in orbit around the earth—at the time, a world record for the longest spaceflight. Bean retired from the Navy in 1975, but continued to hold NASA leadership positions as a civilian. He left NASA in 1981 in order to devote himself to painting. His paintings and sculptures, many created with lunar tools, document his experiences as an astronaut. (Section 11, Grave 249-2-B)

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)

Michael Collins, U.S. Air Force (1930–2021) — Maj. Gen. Michael Collins flew in space twice: he crewed the Gemini 10 mission in 1966 and orbited the moon as command module pilot for the famous Apollo 11 mission—during which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface. The son of a career Army officer, Collins attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating, he transferred to the Air Force and distinguished himself as a jet fighter test pilot. Collins qualified for the space program in 1963 as part of NASA’s third group of astronauts. He logged 266 hours in space, 1 hour and 27 minutes of which were spent spacewalking. After retiring from NASA in 1970, Collins held several distinguished government positions: assistant secretary of state for public affairs (1970-1971), director of the National Air and Space Museum (1971-1978) and undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1978-1980). His awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Congressional Gold Medal. (Section 51, Grave 2891)

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 (1969) 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) 

C. Gordon Fullerton (U.S. Air Force, 1936-2013) — During a career spanning almost 50 years, C. Gordon Fullerton distinguished himself as an Air Force test pilot, astronaut, and research test pilot at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. Fullerton served in the Air Force for 30 years, rising to the rank of colonel; he piloted more than 135 types of aircraft. His expertise as a test pilot led to his assignment to NASA’s Astronaut Corps in 1969. He subsequently served on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16 and 17 lunar missions, as well as the 1977 test flight of the Space Shuttle Enterprise prototype. Fullerton later piloted or commanded two space shuttle missions, logging 382 hours in space: the 1985 STS-3 orbital flight mission and the 1985 Spacelab 2 mission, which facilitated 13 major scientific research projects. The two space shuttles used in those missions—Columbia and Challenger, respectively—later perished in disastrous accidents, and their crews are memorialized with monuments near Fullerton's own gravesite. (Section 46, Grave 670)

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)

Henry W. Hartsfield Jr., U.S. Air Force (1933-2014) — An Air Force test pilot who joined NASA in 1969, Henry Hartsfield flew three space shuttle missions, logging 483 hours in space. In 1982, he piloted STS-4, the fourth and final orbital test flight of Space Shuttle Columbia. In 1984, he served as spaceflight commander on STS-41D, the maiden flight of Space Shuttle Discovery, which orbited earth 112 times over seven days. The following year, he was spaceflight commander on STS-61A, the ninth and last successful flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, and also the first Spacelab scientific mission to be planned and controlled by members of a non-U.S. nation (West Germany). Hartsfield subsequently became deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, and held other senior leadership positions there until 1998, when he joined the private sector as vice president of the Raytheon Corporation. (Section 46, Grave 1074)

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)

Monuments and Memorials

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

Space Shuttle Challenger 

On January 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded just 73 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

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. Three astronauts whose remains could be identified also have individual gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery.  

  • 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

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