Christa McAuliffe: Teacher Killed In Challenger Disaster Continues To Inspire Students 30 Years Later

Christa McAuliffe, who was killed in the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, is still inspiring former students of New Hampshire’s Concord High School. Several former students, who graduated in 1986, have chosen careers in the education field — due in part to the encouragement of their late teacher.

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, S. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe attended Marion High School, Farmington State College — where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, and Bowie State College — where she earned a Master’s Degree in education.

Between 1970 and 1982, McAuliffe taught American history, civics, and English at several junior high schools throughout Maryland and New Hampshire.

However, as reported by NASA, she eventually settled at New Hampshire’s Concord High School, where she was employed until the time of her death. While working at Concord, Christa taught American history, economics, law, and a course she designed called The American Woman.

In addition to teaching high school, McAuliffe was active in several community organizations including A Better Chance Program for inner city youths, the Junior Service League, and St. Peter’s Church. She also participated in fundraisers for the Concord Hospital and local YMCA.

In August, 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan announced the launch of the Teacher in Space Project — which would allow non-astronaut citizens, who were teachers, to partake in NASA’s space shuttle program and travel into space.

One year later, McAuliffe was chosen from a pool of more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the unique project. The announcement, which was made by then-Vice President Bush, was published in its original form by PBS.

“… the winner, the teacher who will be going into space — Christa McAuliffe. Christa teaches in Concord High School, New Hampshire. She teaches high school social studies. She’s been teaching for 12 years. She plans to keep a journal of her experiences in space… Well, I’m personally looking forward to reading that journal some day.”

As she had no experience as an astronaut, Christa would undergo extensive training to become a Payload Specialist. The position is generally given to technical experts and special guests — who accompany NASA astronauts on space missions.

Biography reports Christa McAuliffe began training at the Houston, Texas, Johnson Training Center in September, 1985. As the STS-51-L mission was scheduled to depart on January 22, 1986, the teacher had fewer than four months to prepare for her mission.

Although the launch was delayed three times due to inclement weather and scheduling conflicts, a launch date of January 28 was eventually approved.

Unfortunately, Christa, and the rest of the Challenger crew, were unable to complete the STS-51-L mission. With millions of live viewers on site and on television, the space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after takeoff.

McAuliffe’s current and former students watched the disaster unfold on television at Concord High School. Although their loss was immense, some of the students turned the tragedy into a positive.

ABC News reports a number of Christa’s former students pursued a career in education — in honor of their late teacher.

Tammy Hickey, who did not like studying social studies until she signed up for McAuliffe’s class, said she strives to “emulate how [her former teacher] was.”

“As a teacher now, I know that I want to show respect and show my students that I care.”

Joanne Walton, who also became a teacher, said she still draws inspiration from Christa McAuliffe — and often asks herself “What would Christa do?”

“I try to be very mindful… She knew that teaching was way more than just imparting information and that it was really important to know students.”

Hickey and Walton are only two of McAuliffe’s former students who are petitioning President Barack Obama “to honor Christa and other astronauts for their ultimate sacrifice” with a national holiday.

The residents of Concord, New Hampshire, have already honored the beloved teacher with the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center planetarium and an elementary school — which also bears her name. However, her former students believe she and her fellow crew members deserve national recognition for making the ultimate sacrifice and remaining a true inspiration.

[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]