Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. While the world was watching, the space shuttle Challenger exploded with history and social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe and six others on board.
I was 15 years old in 1986, sitting in third period watching the launch on television. Our class was excited to see history in the making, a space shuttle with a classroom teacher on board for the first time.
It was especially meaningful to the students at Altavista High School in Virginia because our very own science teacher, Mrs. Carter, had been one of the more than 11,000 teachers that applied to go on board the space shuttle Challenger.
Mrs. Carter had shared with us her great hopes as well as the tedious application process with dozens of pages of questionnaires and forms. Ultimately, she was not chosen and it had been announced that the lucky teacher was McAuliffe of Concord, N.H.
When the Challenger exploded in flight a mere 73 seconds after launch, any disappoint we held that our own teacher wasn’t aboard vanished. The classrooms were completely silent until finally our principal came over the intercom. He announced a moment of silence was ironic because the students had been unable to speak as they processed what they had just witnessed on lived television.
Fast forward 12 years later, and I joined the honored ranks of the teaching profession. Live broadcast were sometimes part of classroom education including presidential Inaugurations and even the impeachment hearings of 1998.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion, teachers in New Hampshire will be honoring Christa McAuliffe at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center at a reception for educators and their families where a documentary of McAuliffe’s life and legacy will be shown. There will be a tribute open to the public following at the center’s planetarium.
Remembering Christa McAuliffe in the classroom:
Teachers don’t have to be near an organized tribute service to honor the legacy of Christa McAuliffe. There are many ways to remember and connect history for today’s students.
Where were you when the space shuttle Challenger exploded?
Sandra Wilson Farmer was a mother of two and a college student on Jan. 28, 1986.
“I remember exactly where I was,” says Sandra. “I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of Lynchburg College listening to it on the radio when it happened.”
Twenty-five years ago understandably seems like more than a life-time ago for young students. Having students interview people that they know to find out where they were when the Challenger disaster happened and their reactions can help students connect events and people that seem out of reach via people they can sit face to face with today.
Books and Online Resources on Christa McAuliffe and the space shuttle Challenger
There are also a variety of books and online resources that can help build interest and understanding related to teacher Christa McAuliffe and the space shuttle Challenger explosion.
The NASA History Program Office web page offers many helpful links that teachers can utilize. Of note are A Sequence of Major Events of the Challenger Accident, Biographies of the Challenger Crew and Ronald Reagan’s Address to the Nation.
There are also many helpful books that enlighten students about Christa McAuliffe and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion including:
A Journal for Christa: A Teacher in Space written by Christa McAuliffe’s mother, Grace George Corrigan.
Teacher in Space: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger by Colin Burgess
Christa McAuliffe: A Space Biography by Laura S. Jeffrey
Teachers can also honor Christa McAuliffe and the six others aboard the Challenger with a moment of silence on Friday, Jan. 28, at 11:39 a.m.
Personal experience as a student and teacher
Telephone interview with Sandra Farmer, January 23, 2011