Monday, January 23, 2012

An American Hero Christa McAuliffe

Twenty Six years ago on January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger with six crew members plus school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, came to a horrifying end at 48,000 feet and fell to the earth with millions of people watching live TV,  including many children in their classrooms.

In 1962, the day after John Glenn orbited the Earth in Friendship 7, Christa told a friend at her high school, "Do you realize that someday people will be going to the Moon?  Maybe even taking a bus, and I want to do that!"

Christa became a teacher at Concord High School where she taught social studies, history, law, economics, and her self-designed course, "The American Woman".  It was here that she learned of President Ronald Reagan's announcement of the Teacher in Space Project.  NASA was looking for an "ordinary person and  gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit".  Christa became one of 11,000 applicants writing, "I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies.  I watched the Space Age being born, and I would like to participate."

Out of the 11,000 Christa was chosen with Barbara Morgan as her backup.  They both took a year absence from teaching in order to train for the mission.  Christa was prepared to conduct basic science experiments in the fields of chromatography, hydroponics, magnetism, and Newton's laws.  She was also going to conduct two 15 minute classes from space, including a tour of the spacecraft called "The Ultimate Field Trip" along with a lesson about the benefits of space travel called "Where We've Been, Where We're Going, Why". Her lessons were going to be broadcast to millions of schoolchildren via closed-circuit TV.

Survived by her husband, son and daughter, parents, and 4 siblings Christa was buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire, and mourned by the world.  She has been honored and memorialized with the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium/McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, the Christa McAuliffe Residential Community building at Bowie State University, a crater on the moon named McAuliffe, an asteroid named 3352 McAuliffe, and a crater on Venus named McAuliffe by the Soviet Union.  There have been 40 schools around the world named after her, including the McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Scholarships and other events have been established in her memory.  The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference has been held in Nashua, New Hampshire, ever year since 1986, and is devoted to the use of technology in all aspects of education.  The Nebraska McAuliffe Prize honors a Nebraska teacher each year for coverage and excellence in education.  Grants in her name, honoring innovative teachers are provided by American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Council for the Social Studies.  Christa's parents, Edward and Grace Corrigan, worked with Framingham State College to establish the McAuliffe Center for Education.

On July 23, 2004, Christa and all the other 13 astronauts lost in both the Challenger and Columbia disasters were posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

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