Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remembering Christa McAuliffe September 2, 1948 - January 28, 1986

"From triumph to disaster"

These words can describe the life of the first teacher in space.

Christa McAuliffe was born Sharon Christa Corrigan in Boston, Massachusetts and was the eldest of five children to an accountant and a substitute teacher.

Christa graduated from Marian High School in Framingham, Massachusetts.  While in high school, she had always been inspired by the space program and especially the Apollo moon landing program.  She was a big fan of astronaut, John Glenn.  Following high school, she attended the Framingham State College where she earned a B.A. degree in history.  She would soon marry her longtime boyfriend, Steve McAuliffe who had recently graduated from VMI and the two moved to Washington D.C.  in order for her husband to attend law school.

She began teaching history at a junior high school in Maryland.  She also eventually obtained her masters degree from Bowie State University of Maryland.  In 1978, the McAuliffe's moved to Concord, New Hampshire and she continued teaching several courses including a self designed course called, "The American Woman."  The purpose of her course emphasized the impact of ordinary people in history.  She had always thought an important aspect of learning was through field trips and bringing in specialized speakers who could inspire her students.

President Ronald Reagan announced the creation of the Teacher in Space program in 1984 that's purpose was for NASA to eventually put a teacher into space for the purpose of communicating with the teacher's students while in orbit.  Christa was one of over 11000 applicants to the program.  When they narrowed the field of applicants to 10, Christa was invited to the Johnson Space Center that
required her to take a variety of medical tests and briefings about space flight.  Because of Christa's
"infectious enthusiasm, she would be the selected person along with an alternate, Barbara Morgan.

NASA paid the salaries of the two over the next year as they trained a learned more about space exploration.  It was soon announced that she would be part of the STS-51-L crew.  The teaching curriculum was also developed that included experiments in magnetism, chromatography and Newton's laws.  She had also planned to conduct two 15 minute classes from space and included a tour of the spacecraft called "The Ultimate Field Trip" and "Where We've Been, Where We're Going, Why"  During that same year, McAuliffe appeared on several television programs including "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" "Good Morning America" and "CBS Morning News"

Memorial program
On January 28, 1986, McAuliffe and the six crew members boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Thousands witnessed the take off and 73 seconds into the flight at 48000 feet, the shuttle exploded.  All aboard were killed instantly.  It was later determined that the disaster was caused by a defect in the part of the spacecraft called "O-Rings."

STS 51-L memorial service
Over the next several days, the country was glued to the television as we witnessed the events as they unfolded including the funerals and memorials of the Challenger crew.

Fr. James Leary, the priest who married Christa and her husband Steve, officiated a private funeral mass for Christa  on Feb. 3 in the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Concord, New Hampshire that was attended by nearly 500 people.

A public memorial service for Christa (program pictured) was held on Feb. 7.  Other memorial services for the crew were held at NASA headquarters.
Christa's resting place

Her remains rest in the Blossom Hill Cemetery in her hometown of Concord, New Hampshire.

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