Sharon Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher to fly in space. She was selected from
more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance
into the astronaut ranks.
McAuliffe was born September 2, 1948, the
oldest child of Edward and Grace Corrigan. Her father was, at that time,
completing his sophomore year at Boston College. Not long thereafter, he
took a job as an assistant comptroller in a Boston department store, and the
family moved to the Boston suburb of Framingham. As a young girl, Christa was very excited about the Apollo moon landing program and, years later, wrote on
her astronaut application form that "I watched the Space Age being born and
I would like to participate."
McAuliffe attended Framingham State College in her hometown, graduating in
1970. A few weeks later she married her longtime boyfriend, Steven
McAuliffe and they moved to the Washington, DC, metropolitan area so Steven
could attend Georgetown Law School. She took a job teaching in the secondary
schools, specializing in American history and social studies. They stayed in
the Washington area for the next eight years while she taught and completed an
M.A. from Bowie State University in Maryland. They moved to Concord, New
Hampshire, in 1978 when Steven accepted a job as an assistant to the State
Attorney General. Christa took a teaching post at Concord High School in
1982 and, in 1984, learned about NASA's efforts to locate an educator to fly
on the Shuttle. The intent was to find a gifted teacher who could
communicate with students from space.
NASA selected McAuliffe for this position in the summer of 1984. In the
fall she took a year-long leave of absence from teaching, during which time
NASA would pay her salary, and trained for an early 1986 Shuttle mission.
McAuliffe had stated that her goal as the first teacher in space was to "humanize the Space Age by
giving a perspective from a non-Astronaut." She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the teacher in space
program received tremendous popular attention as a result. It is in part
because of the excitement over McAuliffe's presence on the Challenger that
the fatal accident had such a significant impact on the nation. Though she never got to report from space, Christa McAuliffe did a lot to excite a new generation of children to dream about being a part of our future space program.
Today, there are elementary schools named after her in many states, including Florida, Colorado and California.