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Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

It was one of those moments that stay with you for a lifetime – an event and an image so powerful that you could only stare silently at the TV screen as you tried to comprehend what had just happened.

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger just 73 seconds after launch from the Kennedy Space Center on January, 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, a Concord, N.H. teacher, whose inclusion in the mission had captured the imagination of school children all across America.

The accident led to a two-and-a-half year grounding of the shuttle fleet, but more than that, it once again reminded everyone how dangerous space travel was and how lives could change in a second.

Christa McAuliffe was chosen from over 11,000 applicants for NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. The program was launched by President Reagan in 1984, with the idea of placing an “ordinary teacher” aboard one of the shuttle missions, so he or she could communicate with students while in orbit. NASA’s plans called for her to conduct two 15-minute classes from space, including a tour of Challenger that was dubbed “The Ultimate Field Trip.”

With her easy smile and outgoing personality, McAuliffe became a media favorite in the run-up to the mission, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and all the top TV morning shows. Schools all over America embraced the Challenger mission and prepared to track its progress from their classrooms.

The fact that so many schoolchildren were watching the launch certainly contributed to the lasting impact the explosion had on the American people and the shock and grief experienced throughout the world. It was as if everyone had lost a favorite teacher, rather than just the 400 students at Concord High School.

In the last 25 years, Christa McAuliffe has not been forgotten. Over 40 schools around the world have been named after her, and countless other scholarships and events have been established in her memory. She has been the subject of at least two documentaries, and a TV movie Challenger was released in 1990.

Although Space Shuttle missions eventually resumed, NASA never revived the Teacher in Space Project. It was as if the shock of losing Christa McAuliffe had been so great that no-one was prepared to risk another disaster. So she remains a unique figure in NASA’s storied history of triumphs and tragedies – and one that we will remember for a lifetime.

Comment by michelle, posted 1/27/2011, 12:58 AM:

I can't believe its been 25 years. We all watched it happen in our classrooms and was a very sad moment to say the least. Thanks for writing this to help us remember this important mark in history.
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