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Christa McAuliffe was born on September 2, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. She is best known for being the first high school teacher chosen to join the NASA Teacher in Space Project on July 19, 1985. Christa and the rest of the crew died on January 28, 1986, when her shuttle, the Challenger, exploded shortly after liftoff.
Early Life and Education
Christa was born as Sharon Christa Corrigan. She was the first of five children in the Corrigan family. When she turned five her family moved to Framingham, Massachusetts. At that time the “Space Age” had begun and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was busy preparing astronauts to launch into space. Christa studied American history and education in college at Framingham State University. Her life’s passion was to become a high school teacher. In 1970, she graduated and married her high school sweetheart, Steven McAuliffe. Christa was excited and prepared for her new job. She began teaching American history and English to her junior high school students in Maryland. McAuliffe was a popular teacher. Her students loved her because she was so enthusiastic and was able to make history understandable. She also liked to take her students on field trips. During her first few years teaching, Christa gave birth to her son, Scott, who was born in 1976. After completing her master’s degree at Bowie State University, her family moved to New Hampshire. Here, Christa began her second job as a high school teacher and gave birth to her second child, Caroline.
Christa's Dreams of Space Travel
Christa was very interested in space travel. She followed all the news about the launching of the first space shuttle as it circled Earth in 1981. She shared her dreams of being an astronaut with her classes. Three years later, her wishes came true when President Ronald Reagan and NASA came up with the idea of sending a teacher into space. He hoped that this mission would show the rest of the world just how important teachers were. Can you imagine Christa’s surprise when the president announced a contest to launch a teacher into space? Christa quickly applied. On July 19, 1985, Vice President George Bush announced that Christa McAuliffe had been selected to be the first ordinary citizen in space. She beat out more than 11,000 applicants!
Preparation and Launch
Christa was thrilled with her opportunity to go into space and bring back what she learned to her students in the high school. In September 1985, she began training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Her original launch date was January 22, but there were many problems with the shuttle taking off. The flight was delayed four times before the date for launching was finally set. On January 28, 1986, McAuliffe’s friends, family, and students watched as the space shuttle Challenger prepared for takeoff. Millions of people were also watching on televisions around the world. Sadly, less than two minutes after the shuttle lifted off, it exploded and everyone aboard died. It was a very sad time for those who loved Christa and believed in her dream of being the first teacher to enter space. Teachers around the world, many of whom watched the launch live, were devastated.
After Christa's death, she received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. She was also honored with having a planetarium, asteroid, and star named after her. The world will never forget that brave young woman who inspired so many to follow their dreams no matter how “far-out” they may seem.