Women’s History Month: Christa McAuliffe, educator and astronaut

Christa McAuliffe ((1948-1986) was an educator and an astronaut.

On January 28, 1986 I was standing at the bar in the kitchen making myself something to eat.  Fayette County WV schools had a snow day and I could not have been happier because I would be able to watch the space shuttle launch live.  I passed the TV and caught a snippet of an announcement regarding the potential of ice crystals forming on the shuttle because of the dropping temperature.  I can remember the feeling of “wrong” when I heard that and immediately felt like they should delay.  They did not.  Seconds into the launch I watched, with millions around the world, as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven crew members. Only two years before I had watched Challenger launch while on vacation in Florida.  My family and friends had all gathered on the bridge, miles away from the launch-pad.  Along with hundreds of fellow spectators, we watched as the little light on the horizon made its way up, up and even further up until it was out of our line of sight.  It was exhilarating to watch.  And, although we could only see the barest of glimpses, we could also hear it.  It felt like an honor to have witnessed a crew’s entry into space.

In 1970, Christa received her bachelor’s from Framingham State College.  She would receive her master’s in education from Bowie State University in 1978.  She decided to dedicate her life to the next generation by teaching.  According to her wiki: She obtained her first teaching position in 1970 as an American history teacher at Benjamin Foulois Jr High in Morningside, MD.  From 1971 to 1978, she taught history and civics at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, MD.  In 1978 she moved to Concord, NH with her husband and accepted a job as an assistant to the NH Attorney General.  She taught 7th and 8th grade American history and English in Concord, NH and 9th grade English in Bow, NH before taking a permanent teaching position at Concord High School in 1983.

In 1985 NASA put out the call to teachers around the globe and offered them the opportunity to go into space.  Christa, along with some 11,000 other applicants, applied.  To her elation, she was accepted and would become the first educator in space aboard the mission STS-51-L.  Her portion of the mission would be to conduct experiments and to teach while in space. I had followed the story closely, marveling at technology and how far we had come.  But that dream would be cut viciously short when only 73 seconds after the launch of the space shuttle it broke apart, killing all of the crew.  She would posthumously receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. It was determined that the accident was due to the failure of rubber O-rings made by Morton-Thiokol.  The O-rings created the seal on the right solid rocket booster.  Their failure was noted as a flaw in their design.  Their failure was directly related to the cold temperatures.

If you would like to learn more about Christa, below are a few links:

http://www.citizensinspace.org/teachers-in-space-the-history/

https://www.biography.com/people/christa-mcauliffe-9390406

 

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