On July 19, 1985, Christa McAuliffe became the first American civilian selected to travel into space. The 37-year-old social studies teacher was selected out of 11,416 teacher applicants for the first Teacher in Space Project mission. Her plan was to film lessons in space that would be broadcast in classrooms across the United States. She wished to educate everyone about the wonders of space and, as she told Johnny Carson, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”
Born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1948, in Boston, Mass., she grew up during the height of the Space Age. As a young girl, she was in awe of NASA’s thrilling space projects, including Project Mercury and the Apollo moon landing program. In 1962, the day after John Glenn orbited the earth in Friendship 7, she told her friend, “Do you realize that someday people will be going to the Moon? Maybe even taking a bus, and I want to do that!”
McAuliffe graduated from Framingham State College in 1970. That same year she married Steven James McAuliffe and began her teaching career at a Maryland junior high school. The McAuliffe family, including their two children, ultimately settled in Concord, NH. In 1983, she began teaching social studies at Concord High School. As a teacher, she made sure to emphasize the importance of ordinary people in history, in order to empower her students. In 1985, she became one of those regular Americans making history when Vice President George H.W. Bush announced that McAuliffe had been selected to go on the Teacher in Space Project mission.
On January 28, 1986, an inspired nation watched McAuliffe board the Space Shuttle Challenger, only to see it explode 73 seconds after lift-off. The entire nation was horrified by the tragic incident that killed McAuliffe as well as the six other crew members on board.
McAuliffe posthumously received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and an asteroid and a crater on the moon were named in her honor. And her lessons are not lost. Thirty-two years after her death, the lessons are finally coming to life as astronauts are currently filming McAuliffe’s lessons on the International Space Station.