Born September 2, 1948, (Sharon) Christa Corrigan McAuliffe grew up to be a teacher and it was her profession and her love of it that led to her death in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986.
The facts of her life are unremarkable. She was the eldest of five children and her parents, Edward and Grace Corrigan, lived in Framingham, MA a suburb of Boston. She attended Framingham and Marion High Schools and went on to graduate from Framingham State College in 1970. She married her high school sweetheart, Steven McAuliffe, only a few weeks after graduation. The couple moved to Washington DC, in order for Steve to attend Georgetown Law School and it was there that Christa took her first teaching job. The stayed in the area for eight years and she taught and extender her own education, earning an M.A. degree from Bowie State University, in Maryland. In 1978 Steven was offered and accepted a job with the state attorney general’s office in Concord, New Hampshire. Christa went to work for the Concord High School in 1982. During their life together Christa and Steven McAuliffe had parented two children, Scott and Caroline. As I said at the beginning of the article her life was unremarkable.
Then something happened that was remarkable from her perspective, NASA was initiating a new program and were looking for gifted teachers to broadcast lessons live from the Space Shuttle. Christa, like many of the baby boomer generation, had grown up with the excitement of the space program when it was all new and the crews were doing things that had never been done before, things that could only be found in Science Fiction books and movies. She applied, stating on her application “I watched the Space Age being born and would like to participate.” On July 19, 1985 she (as primary) and Barbara Morgan (as her backup) were chosen from the 11,000 other applicants who shared that sentiment. The two teachers happily took a year’s leave of absence and began training for the mission.
It is reported that she had an almost instant rapport with the members of the media who covered the space program. As a result the teacher in space program was given a lot of good press and attracted the attention of the rest of the world.
When the Shuttle was destroyed with all the crew the world was shocked and horrified. School televisions throughout North America and televisions in much of the rest of the world were watching as the launch take place. It is unlikely that any disaster before or since that lasted only seconds, had or will have such an immeasurable live audience.
Her name will not be forgotten for schools all over America now bear it. Her hometown of Framingham renamed the library branch she frequented the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Library and there is now the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, New Hampshire. There is the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah and the Christa McAuliffe Residential Complex at her Alma Mater, Bowie State University. Then as a tribute from the astronomy world there is the asteroid 3352 McAuliffe and the McAuliffe crater on the Moon.
Is she worthy of such honours? Oh yes, because she is a heroine. Some would call her a working class hero’ but I just think of her as a hero an ordinary person who led an ordinary life until the moment came when she was given the opportunity to do something extraordinary and she did not hesitate. That is what true heroism is.
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