Christa McAuliffe was to make the first broadcast to schools from space but disaster intervened. The wife of Steven McAuliffe of Concord, New Hampshire, Sharon Christa McAuliffe (nee Corrigan) was a 37-year old high school social studies teacher in 1984 when she was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to become the first teacher in space.
The idea captured the imagination of Americans. A special NASA video network was set up so that students in Christa's class in Concord, as well as thousands of others across the country could watch America's first space teacher go into space and teach classes from earth orbit.
Christa's husband Steve and children Scott, 9, and Caroline, 6, were at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch of the 'Challenger on January 28, 1986. Disaster struck after the launch at 11:40 a.m. EST. An explosion occurred 73 seconds into the flight as a result of a leak in one of two Solid Rocket Boosters that ignited the main liquid fuel tank. The explosion became one of the most significant events of the 1980s, as billions around the world saw the accident on television. Christa's fellow crew members on the ill-fated launch were flight commander Francis R. "Dick" Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka; Judith A. Resnik; and Gregory B. Jarvis.
Sharon Christa was born on September 2, 1948, the oldest child of Edward and Grace Corrigan. Soon afterward the family moved to the Boston suburb of Framingham. Christa attended Framingham State College in her hometown, graduating in 1970. She married her longstanding boyfriend, Steven McAuliffe, and they moved to the Washington, DC, so Steven could attend Georgetown Law School. Christa took a job teaching in the secondary schools, specialising in American history and social studies. They stayed in the Washington area for the next eight years, during which she completed an M.A. from Bowie State University, in Maryland. They moved to Concord, New Hampshire, in 1978 when Steven accepted a job as an assistant to the state attorney general. Christa took a teaching post at Concord High School in 1982, and in 1984 learned about NASA's efforts to locate an educator to fly on the Shuttle. The intent was to find a gifted teacher who could communicate with students from space.
NASA selected Christa McAuliffe for this position in the summer of 1984 and in the fall she took a year- long leave of absence from teaching, during which time NASA would pay her salary, and trained for an early 1986 Shuttle mission. She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the teacher in space program received tremendous popular attention as a result. It is in part because of the excitement over Christa McAuliffe's presence on the Challenger that the accident had such a significant impact on the nation.
"Christa McAuliffe would never teach her classroom lesson from space, but her death and the death of her companions served to teach the lesson that the dangers and unknowns of space travel are more than equaled by the bravery of the men and women who seek to conquer mankind's final frontier."
The Challenger launch
Ill-fated crew of the Challenger
LINKS TO OTHER SITES
FEATURING CHRISTA McAULIFFE
Profiles of crew members of the Challenger can be seen at this NASA site.
An account of the tragedy at the Awesome 80s site.
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