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Christa McAuliffe - The Space Shuttle Challenger Astronaut Teacher

I Touch The Future


(UNDATED FILE PHOTO) Teacher and space shuttle astronaut, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, is shown in an undated official portrait released by NASA.
Getty Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was born September 2, 1948 to Edward and Grace Corrigan. She was to be the first of five children. At the time, her father was completing his sophomore year at Boston College. Shortly after Christa’s birth, he accepted employment as an assistant comptoller with a Boston department store and the young family moved to Framingham, a Boston suburb.

Like most children growing up in the era of Sputnik, while the Space Race was rushing towards Apollo 11, Christa was very excited about the space program. Years later, on her Teacher In Space Program application, she would write, "I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate."

While attending Marian High School in Framingham, MA, Christa met and fell in love with Steve McAuliffe. After graduation, she attended Framingham State College, majored in history, and received her degree in 1970. That same year, she and Steve were married.

Within weeks Steve and Christa McAuliffe had moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where Steve was to attend Georgetown Law School. Christa took a job teaching in the secondary schools, specializing in American history and social studies until the birth of their son, Scott. Afterward, she began attending Bowie State University, earning a masters degree in school administration in 1978.

Shortly after graduation, they moved to Concord, NH, when Steve accepted a job as an assistant to the state attorney general. Christa delivered their second child, a daughter, Caroline and she stayed home to raise her and Scott while looking for work. Eventually, she took a job with Bow Memorial School, then later with Concord High School. She was also very active in the community, giving her time to church, a tennis club, the local playhouse, the YMCA, the Girls Scouts and Concord Hospital. She was also a jogger and a swimmer.

In 1984 when she learned about NASA's efforts to locate an educator to fly on the Shuttle, everyone who knew Christa told her to “Go for it!” The intent was to find a gifted teacher who could communicate with students from space. Mailing her completed eleven page application at the last minute, she doubted her chances of success. Even after becoming a finalist, she did not expect to be chosen. Some of the other teachers were doctors, authors, scholars. She felt she was just an ordinary person. When her name was chosen, out of 11,500 applicants in the summer of 1984, she was shocked, but ecstatic. She was going to make history as the first school teacher in space.

After taking a year long leave of absence, the teacher headed to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to begin her training in September 1985. She feared the other astronauts would consider her an intruder, just “along for the ride,” and vowed to work hard to prove herself. Instead, she discovered that the other crew members treated her as part of the team. She trained with them in preparation for a 1986 mission.

She said, “A lot of people thought it was over when we reached the Moon. They put space on the back burner. But people have a connection with teachers. Now that a teacher has been selected, they are starting to watch the launches again.” Besides teaching lessons from the shuttle, Christa was planning to keep a journal of her adventure. “That's our new frontier out there, and it's everybody's business to know about space.”

Christa was scheduled to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger for mission STS-51L. After several delays, it finally launched January 28, 1986 at 11:38:00 a.m. EST.

Seventy three seconds into the flight, the Challenger exploded.

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