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NASA to pay tribute to its fallen astronauts

The space agency is remembering 17 astronauts who died in the Apollo 1, Space Shuttle Challenger, and Columbia disasters.

The crew of Apollo 1, which caught fire on January 27, 1967, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

NASA said Wednesday that it is planning to celebrate a day of remembrance for its fallen astronauts on Friday.

In a release, the space agency said that it will commemorate astronauts who died in the ill-fated Apollo 1, and Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia missions.

NASA said that the day of remembrance will honor "members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery."

The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded just after liftoff on January 28, 1986. NASA

On January 27, 1967, a fire erupted in the Apollo 1 capsule as astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were still on the launch pad. All three were killed. "The investigation into the fatal accident," according to NASA, "led to major design and engineering changes, making the Apollo spacecraft safer for the coming journeys to the moon."

On January 28, 1986, a mere 73 seconds after liftoff, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded when a booster engine failed, killing crew commander Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

And on February 1, 2003, astronauts Rick Husband -- the mission's commander, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, and Ilan Ramon were killed when the Space Shuttle Columbia, just 16 minutes from touching down, exploded when, according to NASA, "a piece of foam, falling from the external tank during launch...opened a hole in one of the shuttle's wings, leading to the breakup of the orbiter upon re-entry."

The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which exploded just minutes from touching down on February 1, 2003. NASA

That all three disasters happened within four days on the calendar, albeit in different years, makes this week a natural time for NASA to honor the memory of the 17 lost astronauts.