Challenger astronauts memorialized on the Moon

By Phil Plait | January 30, 2011 7:00 am

Friday was the 25th anniversary of the loss of the Shuttle Orbiter Challenger, which I already wrote about as part of a post about Apollo 1 and Columbia. But I wanted to add that after that event in 1986, seven craters on the Moon were named after the astronauts:

This mosaic of LRO images is about 190 km wide, so these craters are actually quite large. Interestingly, these craters are themselves inside a much larger 524-km wide impact basin… named Apollo.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Challenger, craters, LRO, Moon

Comments (28)

Links to this Post

  1. January 31, 2011 - Science and Religion Today | January 31, 2011
  1. Derek

    Are there other craters named after any of the people in that post the other day?

  2. for some strange reason the above named structures look a lot more like hills than holes (craters). Im percieving something wrong because of the light or ..? i.e. the structure up and right from mcAULIFFE looks like a crater or a series of holes, but the structures named after the astronauts look like hills.

  3. The Man Version

    I don’t think I’d ever heard they’d done this. Very cool.

    I’ve been kvetching the last couple of days about how people act as though Christa McAuliffe was the only one on board. Nothing from NASA or anything, but in the popular press. Even if you look at The Big Picture from Friday, you got more than a dozen pictures in a row of Christa and all the rest relegated to group shots.

    I’m mostly over it now.

  4. @ apeleytheros:

    It’s all in the light. There are some hills just up and to the right of the McAuliffe crater. Note the bright slopes on the left and the shadows on the right, especially the deep shadow at the far right where a hill is cut by a steep cliff. All the craters have the shadows on the left, where the sunlight (coming from the left) doesn’t reach.

    BTW, mou aresei to website sas. (Signomi yia tin kaki ellinika mou.)

  5. sHx


    Yes, they look like domes instead of craters as a result of optical illusion. This particular optical illusion comes a lot on BA. See this for example:

    In this particular instance, I don’t mind if the craters look like domes… for obvious reasons.

    BTW, have the Russians, Chinese and Europeans agreed to the new names or is this a unilateral move?

  6. Riv

    I know it’s not intended, but isn’t it a little morbid to name impact craters after lost astronauts?

  7. Why did the women get the smallest craters?

  8. PayasYouStargaze

    I’m with Riv. Maybe they could have named something other than craters after these astronauts.

  9. ChH

    apeleytheros, rotate the image so it appears the light is coming from above instead of from the left (90 deg CCW) and they will more easily appear as crateers.



    BTW, have the Russians, Chinese and Europeans agreed to the new names or is this a unilateral move?

    According to Wikipedia, crater nomenclature — like planetary_nomenclature — is governed by the International Astronomical Union (yeah, the same guys who decided that Pluto is not a planet), and this listing only includes features that are officially recognized by that scientific society.

    (Yeah, you guys, I’m Back!) ūüėČ

  11. andy

    What Riv said. And besides the shuttle has successfully managed to keep human spaceflight stuck in Low Earth Orbit, so giving them a memorial on the Moon seems somewhat ironic…

  12. lol thats amazing. I rotated the image sto the light comes from top, and it looked clearly like craters now. Thank you all for your responses. Trying to figure out whats wrong with the original image. (prolly whats wrong with me as I’m not used to stare at lunar pictures)

    There are not many things left anonymus on the moon I guess, to be named after astronauts. Not to mention that it has ..craters mainly. I guess all the important stuff has been named before since its the easiest to explore (with the eye) in detail object in the night sky. (I remember seeing a very detailed map with names, back a while ago)

  13. Mike H

    I had the same optical illusion issue as @apeleytheros, but even with the rotation so they looked like craters to my eyes, the shadows just seem odd. The McAuliffe crater has very sharp edges to the shadow, and the secondary crater tagged along with Resnick must be very deep or have a high “west” ridge because the shadow covers 80% of the crater.

  14. IVAN3MAN, where the heck have you been? I’ve missed you!

    I remember where I was exactly on the day Challenger blew up. In the Det 550 student lounge at RPI.

    Off Topic: Oh, Dr. Plait, saw this LOLcat and thought of you:

  15. Zucchi

    Visual perception is so funny. When I looked at the picture an hour ago, I couldn’t make them look like craters, even keeping in mind the direction of the sunlight. Opened it again just now — immediately craters.

  16. #6 Riv:
    They were given craters as memorials, because that’s the convention in lunar nomenclature; craters are named after people, and other features are named in other ways ( with a few exceptions, which were named before the IAU existed ).

    #5 sHx:
    Names for lunar and planetary features are not regarded as “official”, unless approved by the IAU. All proposed names have to be submitted with citations to justify them. The IAU has specific rules about what kind of names are and aren’t allowed; examples of those which aren’t are the names of recent political or military leaders ( which could be considered controversial ), and names which are of great significance only to a single nation. I hardly think that the people killed in space – both American and Russian – fall into that latter category; they are as worthy of memorials as any of the scientists honoured on the Moon.
    Oh, and there is also a rule that ( unlike the naming of asteroids ) no-one can be honoured on the Moon during their lifetime; they have to be dead for at least three years before they can be considered. There are a very small handful of exceptions to this rule; the only ones I know of are the Apollo 11 astronauts.

  17. #13 Larian:
    “I remember where I was exactly on the day Challenger blew up.”

    Me too. It’s my personal equivalent of the death of JFK! It’s a cliche among my parents’ generation, that everyone remembers what they were doing when they heard the news that Kennedy was dead. Well, Challenger is like that for me; 25 years on, I remember it vividly, and can remember every detail of what I was doing and how I heard the news – even though what I was doing was absolutely mundane and ordinary. It’s something I can never forget.

  18. James H.

    I got that same type of hill illusion, then looked at the crater on the upper left of Resnik, and it corrected. Now I can go back and forth. Very cool looking

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @1. Derek : Are there other craters named after any of the people in that post the other day?

    There are the Columbia hills on Mars near the Spirit rover landed site and subsequently some (all?) of those were explored by that rover.

    Incidentally, for those who don’t know or have forgotten, the Pathfinder martian landing site explored by the Sojourner rover was named the Carl Sagan Memorial station and the NEAR mission to asteroid 433 Eros was renamed the NEAR Shoemaker in honour of asteroid scientist Eugene Shoemaker.

    Anyone know if there are also any asteroids named after these heroes as well? If not, methinks, there should be.

    @10. IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE : Excellent news! I’ve missed you & been wondering what’s happened to you. Glad to have you back. ūüėÄ

  20. Messier Tidy Upper

    See :




    All are good and appropriate choices and good ways to honour those who willingly lost their lives for the exploration and better understanding of the universe in my view. :-)

  21. Messier Tidy Upper

    Plus there are some poigant and very appropriate memorials including individually named locations for the Challenger and Columbia astronauts on Earth too – see :

    from a comment & link (#41) on the last thread on this* by Chris Winter. Excerpt from that :

    The whole idea started a month or so ago. I was sitting in a press conference at the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C., where Columbia Peak was formally dedicated to the crew of STS-107. This peak is adjacent to Challenger Peak on Kitt Carson Mountain in Colorado.
    Astronaut Scott Parazynski had come up with the idea of naming an adjacent peak in honor of the Columbia crew. Parazynski recalled how he and some friends had climbed Challenger Peak some years ago and had erected 7 small stone piles – or cairns – in memory of Challenger’s crew. As I heard this an idea hit me: to mark significant navigation points on Devon Island with inukshuks and dedicate one to each member of Columbia’s crew.

    The writer there, Keith Cowing, went on to carry that plan through on the arctic Devon Island. That linked item is well worth a read.

    Thanks for that Chris Winter, posted again here for those who might’ve missed it first time round.

    * Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia, and those who sacrifice for the stars, January 27th, 2011 9:45 AM linked above in the first sentence of the opening article by the BA.

  22. Cmdr. Awesome

    My first thought was the same as Riv (#6), but with a different perspective. Perhaps my sense of humor is a bit odd, but I think that having died in an explosion, quite frankly the best way to be memorialized is via impact crater. I’d rather people think of that and burst into laughter at the ridiculous appropriateness of such a memorial than tearfully mourn my passing.

  23. BJN

    I agree with the notion that craters are an unfortunate metaphor. Whether that’s sad or comic, neither is likely the intent of this memorial.

  24. Huron

    Technically, Smith, McAuliffe, and Jarvis were never astronauts, since Challenger broke up before reaching the altitude reached for them to be officially recognized as astronauts.

  25. Riv

    #16 Thanks Neil, I wasn’t saying it was wrong or inappropriate that they follow this tradition. I was just saying… kinda morbid. ūüėČ

  26. Mike

    Heh, naming craters after the victims of an aeronautical disaster.. as much as I’d like that to be the case if I were to go out so spectacularly, I find it an odd choice for a public office like NASA.

  27. #25 Huron:
    Your nit-picking point doesn’t alter the fact that they died in the disaster, and deserve their memorials.

    #27 Mike:
    The craters were not named by NASA; they were named by the International Astronomical Union. NASA may well have proposed honouring the astronauts, but the IAU had to approve the proposal. See comment 16 for why the names were applied to craters, as opposed to any other lunar features.


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