- Category : Astronaut
- Type : GE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Split - Small (6,25,44)
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Migration 2
Sharon Christa McAuliffe (née Corrigan; September 2, 1948 – January 28, 1986) was an American teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, and was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
She received her bachelor's degree in education and history from Framingham State College in 1970, and also a Master of Arts from Bowie State University in 1978. She took a teaching position as a social studies teacher at Concord High School in New Hampshire in 1982.
In 1985, McAuliffe was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space Project and was scheduled to become the first teacher in space. As a member of mission STS-51-L, she was planning to conduct experiments and teach two lessons from Space Shuttle Challenger. On January 28, 1986, the spacecraft disintegrated 73 seconds after launch. After McAuliffe's death, schools and scholarships were named in her honor, and also in 2004 she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
McAuliffe was born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the eldest of the five children of accountant Edward Christopher Corrigan (1922–1990) of Irish descent and Grace Mary Corrigan (née George), a substitute teacher, whose father was of Lebanese Maronite descent. McAuliffe was a great niece of Lebanese-American historian Philip Khuri Hitti. She was known by the name "Christa" from an early age, although in later years she signed her name "S. Christa Corrigan", and eventually "S. Christa McAuliffe".
The year that McAuliffe was born, her father was completing his sophomore year at Boston College. Not long thereafter, he took a job as an assistant comptroller in a Boston department store, and the family moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, where Christa attended and graduated from Marian High School in 1966. As a youth, she was inspired by Project Mercury and the Apollo moon landing program. The day after John Glenn orbited the Earth in Friendship 7, she told a friend at Marian High: "Do you realize that someday people will be going to the Moon? Maybe even taking a bus, and I want to do that!" She wrote years later on her NASA application form: "I watched the Space Age being born, and I would like to participate."
Career as an educator
McAuliffe attended Framingham State College in her hometown, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in education and history. A few weeks later, she married her longtime boyfriend who she had known from high school Steven J. McAuliffe, a 1970 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, and they moved closer to Washington, D.C., so that Steven could attend the Georgetown University Law Center. They had two children: Scott and Caroline, who were nine and six, respectively, when she died.
McAuliffe obtained her first teaching position in 1970, as an American history teacher at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Morningside, Maryland. From 1971 to 1978, she taught history and civics at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, Maryland. In addition to teaching, she completed a Master of Arts in education supervision and administration from Bowie State University in Maryland. In 1978, she moved to Concord, New Hampshire, when Steven accepted a job as an assistant to the New Hampshire Attorney General. McAuliffe took a teaching post at Concord High School in 1982.
She was a social studies teacher, and taught several courses including American history, law, and economics, in addition to a self-designed course: "The American Woman". Taking field trips and bringing in speakers were an important part of her teaching techniques. According to The New York Times, she "emphasized the impact of ordinary people on history, saying they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals."
Teacher in Space Project
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project, and McAuliffe learned about NASA's efforts to find the first civilian, an educator, to fly into space. NASA wanted to find an "ordinary person," a gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. McAuliffe became one of more than 11,000 applicants.
McAuliffe undergoing pre-flight training experiences weightlessness during a KC-135 "vomit comet" flight
“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.”
—Christa McAuliffe, 1985
NASA hoped that sending a teacher into space would increase public interest in the Space Shuttle program, and also demonstrate the reliability of space flight at a time when the agency was under continuous pressure to find financial support. President Reagan said it would also remind Americans of the important role that teachers and education serve in their country.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, a non-profit organization of public officials in education, was chosen by NASA to coordinate the selection process. Out of the initial applicant pool, 114 semi-finalists were nominated by state, territorial, and agency review panels. McAuliffe was one of two teachers nominated by the state of New Hampshire. The semi-finalists gathered in Washington, DC, from June 22–27, 1985, for a conference on space education and to meet with the National Review Panel that would select the 10 finalists.
On July 1, 1985, McAuliffe was announced as one of the 10 finalists, and on July 7 she traveled to Johnson Space Center for a week of thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flight. The finalists were interviewed by an evaluation committee composed of senior NASA officials, and the committee made recommendations to NASA Administrator James M. Beggs for the primary and backup candidates for the Teacher in Space Project. On July 19, 1985, Vice President George H. W. Bush announced that McAuliffe had been selected for the position. Another teacher, Barbara Morgan, served as her backup. According to Mark Travis of the Concord Monitor, it was McAuliffe's manner that set her apart from the other candidates. NASA official Alan Ladwig said "she had an infectious enthusiasm", and NASA psychiatrist Terrence McGuire told New Woman magazine that "she was the most broad-based, best-balanced person of the 10."
In the autumn of that year, McAuliffe and Morgan each took a year-long leave of absence from teaching in order to train for a space shuttle mission in early 1986. (NASA paid both their salaries.) While not a member of the NASA Astronaut Corps, McAuliffe was to be part of the STS-51-L crew, and would conduct experiments and teach lessons from space. Her planned duties included basic science experiments in the fields of chromatography, hydroponics, magnetism, and Newton's laws. She was also planning to conduct two 15-minute classes from space, including a tour of the spacecraft, called "The Ultimate Field Trip", and a lesson about the benefits of space travel, called "Where We've Been, Where We're Going, Why." The lessons were to be broadcast to millions of schoolchildren via closed-circuit TV. To record her thoughts, McAuliffe intended to keep a personal journal like a "woman on the Conestoga wagons pioneering the West."
After being chosen to be the first teacher in space, McAuliffe was a guest on several television programs, including Good Morning America; the CBS Morning News; the Today Show; and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where, when asked about the mission, she stated, "If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on." She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the Teacher in Space Project received tremendously popular attention as a result.
Disaster and aftermath
On January 28, 1986, McAuliffe boarded Space Shuttle Challenger with the other six crew members of STS-51-L. Just 73 seconds into its flight at an altitude of 48,000 feet, Challenger broke apart, leading to the deaths of all seven crew members. According to NASA, it was in part because of the excitement over McAuliffe's presence on Challenger that the accident had such a significant effect on the nation. Many schoolchildren were viewing the launch live, and media coverage of the accident was extensive.
The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident—also known as the Rogers Commission—was formed to investigate the disaster. It determined that the accident was due to a failure of rubber O-rings made by Morton Thiokol that provided a pressure seal in the aft field joint of the shuttle's right Solid Rocket Booster. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a design flaw, as their performance could be too easily compromised by factors that included the low temperature on the day of launch. The Commission found that O-ring resiliency is directly related to temperature and due to the low temperature at launch—36 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees lower than the next coldest previous launch—it was probable the O-rings had not provided a proper seal.
Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup, became a professional astronaut in January 1998 and flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-118, to the International Space Station, on August 8, 2007, aboard Endeavour, the orbiter that replaced Challenger.
McAuliffe's remains were buried at Blossom Hill Cemetery in her home town, Concord, New Hampshire. She has since been honored at many events, including the Daytona 500 auto race in 1986. The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord and the Christa Corrigan Hennessy Center for Education and Teaching Excellence at Framingham State College are named in her memory, as are the asteroid 3352 McAuliffe, the crater McAuliffe on the Moon, and a crater on the planet Venus, which was named McAuliffe by the Soviet Union. Approximately 40 schools around the world have been named after her, including the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Scholarships and other events have also been established in her memory. The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference has been held in Nashua, New Hampshire, every 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 courage and excellence in education. Grants in her name, honoring innovative teachers, are provided by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the National Council for the Social Studies.
In 1990, McAuliffe was portrayed by Karen Allen in the TV movie Challenger. The spaceship on the 1996–1997 children's science-fiction series Space Cases, about a group of students lost in space, was called "Christa". In 2006, a documentary film about McAuliffe and Morgan called Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars aired on CNN in the CNN Presents format. The film, produced by Renee Sotile and Mary Jo Godges, commemorated the 20th anniversary of McAuliffe's death. The 75-minute feature version was narrated by Susan Sarandon, and included an original song by Carly Simon.
McAuliffe's parents worked with Framingham State College to establish the McAuliffe Center for Education. Her husband Steven J. McAuliffe remarried and in 1992 became a federal judge, serving with the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire in Concord. McAuliffe's son Scott completed graduate studies in marine biology, and her daughter Caroline went on to pursue the same career as her mother: teaching. On July 23, 2004, McAuliffe 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.