KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Some consider this the most somber week in NASA history: three tragedies over the years, happening in just a few days' span.

  • January 28 marks 34 years since crew killed in Challenger tragedy
  • Shuttle explosion is 1 of 3 tragic anniversaries in a week's span for NASA
  • Former Titusville mayor worked for space shuttle program at the time

Those who lived it will never forget.

These days, retired Titusville Mayor Jim Tulley is a docent at the American Space Museum, giving tours and enriching visitors with the Florida Space Coast's rich space history.

Thirty-four years ago, on January 28, 1986, Tulley was working as a software engineer on the space shuttle program.

"I was in the doctor's office with my wife," Tulley recalls.

On a normal day, he would have been watching the space shuttle Challenger launch outside the Kennedy Space Center control center.

"I would have been standing outside with my colleagues," he says. But "by the time I got outside, I saw the two rocket trails going in opposite directions.

"I thought, that just doesn't look good."

Seventy-three seconds into flight, Challenger exploded, killing the seven-member crew, including the first teacher chosen to head to space, Christa McAuliffe.

"Many of the people who worked out there knew the astronauts personally," Tulley says.

The anniversary of the Challenger disaster is wedged between the anniversaries of two other NASA tragedies: the deaths of the Apollo I crew during a launch pad fire on January 27, 1967, and the deaths the seven-member shuttle Columbia crew, who were killed when the orbiter broke apart during landing on February 2, 2003.

The three incidents killed a total of 17 NASA astronauts.

At Titusville's Astronaut Memorial Plaza, all of the fallen heroes are honored — a fitting tribute to the men and women whose sacrifice has continued America's goal to reach for the stars.

"We are very fortunate to have people in the astronaut corps that are willing to put their lives on the line for human exploration," Tulley says.

NASA's annual Day of Remembrance ceremony for all fallen astronauts will be held Thursday morning at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.