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Published in Print: February 5, 1986, as 'I Watched the Space Age Being Born; I Would Like to Participate'

'I Watched the Space Age Being Born; I Would Like to Participate'

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Applicants for the “Teacher in Space” program were asked to answer several essay questions. Christa McAuliffe’s responses follow:

Why do you want to be the first U.S. private citizen in space?

I remember the excitement in my home when the first satellites were launched. My parents were amazed and I was caught up with their wonder. In school, my classes would gather around the TV and try to follow the rocket as it seemed to jump all over the screen. I remember when Alan Shepard made his historic flight—not even an orbit—and I was thrilled. John Kennedy inspired me with his words about placing a man on the moon, and I still remember a cloudy rainy night driving through Pennsylvania and hearing the news that the astronauts had landed safely.

As a woman, I have been envious of those men who could participate in the space program and who were encouraged to excel in the areas of math and science. I felt that women had indeed been left outside of the most exciting careers available. When Sally Ride and other women began to train as astronauts, I could look among my students and see ahead of them an ever-increasing list of opportunities.

I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies. I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.

Space-Shuttle Special Project Description:

In developing my course, The American Woman, I discovered that much information about the social history of the United States has been found in diaries, travel accounts, and personal letters. This social history of the common people, joined with our military, political, and economic history, gives my students an awareness of what the whole society was doing at a particular time in history. They get the complete story. Just as the pioneer travelers of the Conestoga wagon days kept personal journals, I, as a pioneer space traveler, would do the same.

My journal would be a trilogy. I would like to begin it at the point of selection through the training for the program. The second part would cover the actual flight. Part three would cover my thoughts and reactions after my return.

My perceptions as a nonastronaut would help complete and humanize the technology of the Space Age. Future historians would use my eyewitness accounts to help in their studies of the impact of the Space Age on the general population.

I would also like to record much of the daily activity on videotape and slides. A visual message would have a greater impact on an American public than just the written word. Interpersonal relationships would be so different in a spacecraft where people have to live and work in such a limited environment. Stress, reactions to problems, and the daily exchange of information would be ideal material for sociology, American culture, and history courses and the course on The American Woman.

The dress of astronauts, the inside of the space shuttle, the opportunity to ask questions about what people are doing and feeling would certainly add a new dimension to a personal, primary source.

How do you expect to communicate during the year following your return from the space flight mission?

The chance to share my experience with educators and to have a direct impact on education is an exciting prospect. The network of national, regional, and state educational conferences would provide me with the ideal way to disseminate information after the space flight.

For example, over 4,000 educators attended the most recent National Social Studies Conference in Washington, D.C. Annually, conferences are held throughout the country for every educational discipline. The conference system of large audience lectures and small personal workshops would make it possible to reach many educators and thereby have a direct impact on students across the United States.

As a conference speaker, I would share my space flight experience through a slide or videotape presentation and lecture, followed by a question and answer session.

As a presenter in the workshop format, I would have the opportunity to meet with small groups of educators from different disciplines and give them suggestions for class projects and activities. These would include role-playing problems in space travel, journal writing, comparing fantasies about space travel with the realities of the trip, researching the history of space exploration, model building, collecting oral histories of different generations in order to compare perspectives about the progress of the Space Age, and debating the merits and uses of space technology in terms of politics, science, defense, art, and as an aid to humanity.

Vol. 5, Issue 21, Page 12

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