Next week marks the thirty-eighth anniversary of the launch pad fire of Apollo 1, which took the lives of Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. In a grim irony, that same week also marks the nineteenth anniversary of the Challenger disaster, as well as the second anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Though memorials are certainly in order, a closer examination of the nature and cause of each catastrophe reveals much about the nation throughout the past four decades. Particularly in the wake of the Columbia tragedy and its ensuing investigations, disturbing trends in NASA emerged.

On May 25, 1961, with America still riding high on the successful fifteen-minute flight of Alan Shepard, President John Kennedy gave a speech in which he committed America to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Kennedy

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