Remembering Christa McAuliffe
Thirty-six years ago today, the Challenger space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. Of the seven people on board who died that day, one of them was a teacher.
Christa McAuliffe was chosen from thousands of applicants to represent her profession and teach two lessons from the ultimate classroom—space. And she was a social studies teacher! Not a science teacher, not a math teacher. Her expertise was in history and community.
The Challenger explosion, like other iconic moments in history (think of President Kennedy’s assassination and September 11), takes on the form of a story for whoever was alive when it happened. I was in the fifth grade and had a teacher who was particularly invested in the event. On January 28, 1986, a television was place in the amphitheater where pretty much everyone would pass it during the day. It was meant to be an inspiring event. We elementary-aged schoolchildren were meant to get a glimpse of how ordinary people could be a part of something amazing, something bigger than their own lives. And we did, but maybe not in the way we all expected.
I saw my fifth grade teacher cry that day. Twice. First as we gathered in front of the television to watch an inspiring event turn into a terrible tragedy, and later, when she tried to teach our science class. I think seeing her upset like that, this woman who most of her students, including me, were a little bit afraid of, made more of an impression on me than the actual event at the time.
Christa was known as an experiential teacher. She brought speakers into her classes and took her students on lots of field trips. According to The New York Times, she “emphasized the impact of ordinary people on history, saying they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals.”
To learn more about Christa McAuliffe, take a look at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discover Center in Concord (where Christa was a teacher) or the McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University (where Christa graduated from college).
Learn more about rockets and space flight with this sample chapter from Projectile Science!