On rare occasions, an ordinary life is transformed into something extraordinary. Sometimes this happens by chance; sometimes it happens by design. In the case of Christa McAuliffe, it was a combination of both.
Born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1948, she was the oldest child of Edward and Grace Corrigan. Shortly after her birth her family moved to Framingham, Massachusetts where she spent the rest of her childhood. She attended Framingham State College, graduating in 1970. Later that year she married Steve McAuliffe.
The couple moved to Washington, DC, where Christa had her first teaching job. In Washington she taught high school American History and Social Studies. Her years in Washington also found her attending Bowie State University in Maryland, where she earned a master’s degree.
In 1982, she moved to Concord, New Hampshire, where she taught at Concord High School. In 1984 she heard about NASA’s search for a teacher to become part of the space program. They were looking for a “gifted teacher who could communicate with students from space.” In 1985 she was chosen from a field of 11,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. In September of 1985 she began a yearlong program of training, preparing to be a member of the space shuttle Challenger crew.
As astronaut teacher Christa developed two lessons to teach to children while aboard the Challenger. Dubbed “Classroom Earth”, the two lessons were entitled “The Ultimate Classroom” and “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, and Why.” “The Ultimate Field Trip” was designed to teach children about everyday life aboard the shuttle. “Where we’ve Been, Where We’re Going and Why” was designed to discuss benefits derived from the space program to date, as well as future potential opportunities and benefits.
On January 28, 1986, her dream of becoming the first teacher in space came to a tragic end, as the space shuttle Challenger exploded minutes after lift-off. Yet, her dedication to the space program has resulted in the education of multitudes of children. Schools, space learning centers and teacher education networks have been developed in her honor.
Committed to educating children in life, Christa McAuliffe’s spirit lives on through the hundreds of thousands of students who have had their eyes opened to the wonders of space, astronomy, math and science in programs dedicated to her memory. During most of her time on earth, she led the life of a typical American schoolteacher. It was her selection by NASA to be the first teacher in space, and the subsequent tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, which made her a household word.