The Who2 Blog

Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger: It Was 30 Years Ago Today

Christa McAuliffe photo in blue jumpsuit holding Challenger model in front of US flag


So reads the gravestone of Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who was killed in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger 30 years ago today.

That pretty much says it all, and so does her official NASA photo: young, bright, cheerful and seemingly the perfect person to be America’s first teacher in orbit. NASA’s Teacher In Space program was created in 1984 and McAuliffe applied immediately. The Boston Globe has a nice profile of McAuliffe with details about that shocking day in 1986.

Seven Challenger crew members stand in blue NASA flight suits, holding helmets

McAuliffe, designated a payload specialist, was the only civilian on the flight. The rest of the Challenger crew (from left): payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis, mission specialist Judith A. Resnik, mission Commander Francis R. Scobee, mission specialist Ronald E. McNair, shuttle pilot Michael J. Smith, and mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka. Good-looking crew.

The so-called Rogers Commission, assigned to look into the crash, determined that faulty O-rings on the shuttle’s solid booster rocket led to a chain reaction which doomed the Challenger. This was a truly blue-ribbon panel, including super-astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, physics whiz Richard Feynman, and even sound barrier-breaker Chuck Yeager.

Christa McAuliffe in zero gravity

Christa McAuliffe would still be only 67 years old today; she was 37 at the time of the crash. She had married her husband Steven McAuliffe in 1970. Their two kids, Scott and Caroline, are approaching middle age now; they were ages 9 and 6 in 1986. McAuliffe’s death was terribly sad, and yet it’s hard to say her choice was the wrong one or that it wasn’t worth it. It was a thrilling idea, and such are the terrible risks of pioneering.

NASA has posted an excellent page of Challenger resources, ranging from mission voice transcripts and crew biographies to the text of the Rogers Commission report and other critical post-flight analyses. Warmly recommended!

Or see our biography of wife, mother, teacher and pioneer woman Christa McAuliffe »



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