Image of Astronaut Christa McCauliffe
NASA Image
Sharon Christa McAuliffe

Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, September 2, 1948

Challenger Position: Payload Specialist, Teacher

Education: Graduated from Marian High School, Framingham, Mass. in 1966; received a bachelor of arts degree from Framingham State College in 1970; and a masters in education from Bowie State College, Bowie, MD, in 1978

Sharon Christa McAuliffe held a special position Challenger mission STS 51-L. She was to be the first school teacher to ride along as part of the NASA's new Teacher in Space program. She was born on September 2, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts. She enjoyed jogging, tennis, and volleyball. And she enjoyed teaching. She received her Bachelor's degree in education and history from Framingham State College in 1970. She then went on to receive her Master's degree in education from Bowie State University in 1978. She accepted her first teaching position in 1970 as an American history teacher at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Morningside, Maryland. From 1971 to 1978, she taught history and civics at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, Maryland. In 1978, she moved to Concord, New Hampshire and accepted a teaching position as a social studies teacher at Concord High School in 1982. In addition to social studies, she also taught several other courses including American history, law, and economics. She also taught a self-designed course called "The American Woman". Taking field trips and bringing in speakers were an important part of her teaching techniques. She preferred to emphasized the impact of ordinary people on history, saying they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals.

Teacher in Space Program Insignia

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the formation of the Teacher in Space Project. It was a bold new initiative to find the first civilian educator to fly into space. NASA wanted to find an ordinary person who was also a gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. They hoped that sending a teacher into space would renew public interest in the Space Shuttle program. President Reagan said that it would also remind Americans of the important role that teachers and education serve in their country. McAuliffe learned about the program and became of over 11,000 applicants. On July 1, 1985, she was announced as one of 10 finalists for the program. All ten finalists were given thorough medical evaluations and were interviewed by an evaluation committee. On July 19, 1985, President George H.W. Bush announced that McAuliffe had been selected for the position along with Barbara Morgan as her backup. Later that year she took a year-long leave of absence from teaching to train for a shuttle mission, though as a civilian she was not an official member of the NASA Astronaut Corps. Her instant celebrity status did not distract her from her primary goal and she continued to focus on teaching assignment for the shuttle mission.

McAuliffe's official position on Challenger mission STS 51-L was payload specialist. Her primary responsibility was to conduct live classes and experiments from the shuttle while in orbit. When Challenger was lost during the accident, her death hit the world particularly hard because she was one of us. She was the first average person to fly in space. Thousands of school children were watching the event on live TV, and her parents were viewing the launch from the Kennedy Space Center. After the accident, she was laid to rest in her home town of Concord, New Hampshire. She was survived by her husband and her two children. Following the accident, more than 40 schools around the world were named after her. In addition, a Moon crater, an asteroid, and a crater on Venus were also named after her. A number of scholarships have been established in her memory. The Teacher in Space program was put on hold for 21 years, but in 2007, Barbara Morgan became the first teacher to conduct classes from Earth orbit on Endeavour mission STS-118. She helped to fulfill the legacy of Christa McAuliffe and pave the way for more civilian missions in space.