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Published in Print: February 12, 1986, as Across the Nation, Personal Tributes to Shuttle Crew

Across the Nation, Personal Tributes to Shuttle Crew

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By Blake Rodman

Americans of all ages last week responded to the space-shuttle tragedy by joining in efforts to memorialize the seven lost astronauts and to keep alive their pioneering spirit.

NASA officials said last week that the agency had received calls from hundreds of people offering to donate money for a new shuttle orbiter, to help provide for the children of the astronauts, or to contribute to scholarship funds set up in their honor.

“People obviously have a need to do something,” said Barbara E. Selby, a NASA spokesman. “It’s just part of human nature for people to band together in times of tragedy.”

Schoolchildren all over the country, many of whom were watching on television when the Challenger exploded, began collecting money themselves to help build a replacement for the space vehicle.

In addition, numerous scholarship funds were established in memory of the astronauts who died in the blast.

‘The Real Pioneer’

While the nation has mourned the loss of the entire Challenger crew, the death of Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the teacher from Concord, N.H., who was to have been the first private citizen in space, was especially devastating.

Ms. McAuliffe “was an innocent, projecting the confidence that the shuttling of people into orbit and back had become nearly as safe as other forms of travel,” wrote an editorial writer in Tennessee’s Knoxville Journal.

“Ms. McAuliffe represented the rest of us....She was, in the scheme of this mission, the real pioneer.”

To honor Ms. McAuliffe, Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, and several of his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would designate Jan. 28, the day of the tragedy, “National Teachers’ Recognition Day.”

Memorial Scholarships Set

U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett announced last week that he was earmarking $1 million from his discretionary fund to provide “Christa McAuliffe Scholarships” to enable teachers to improve their knowledge in science and mathematics.

The nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, announced that they will also set up funds in Ms. McAuliffe’s name.

The N.E.A. fund, to be supported by contributions from teachers nationwide, will provide grants to practicing and aspiring teachers, enabling them to follow McAuliffe’s example and explore their subject areas in new and innovative ways, said Nancy Young, an N.E.A. spokesman.

The A.F.T. was scheduled to announce the details of its fund last week.

In addition, “Classroom Earth,” the nonprofit group that was to have coordinated the satellite relay of Ms. McAuliffe’s lessons from space, announced that it was launching a national drive to raise money for the “Christa McAuliffe Fund.” The fund would provide seven annual scholarships, one in the academic or professional area practiced by each of the astronauts that perished aboard Challenger.

“Let’s pick up our heads and get on with the spirit of those who died on board the Challenger,” said Walter J. Westrum, executive director of Classroom Earth, which operated from Hall High School in Sprint Valley, Ill.

The group is asking all students who planned to view the lessons via satellite to contribute 25 cents to the fund.

State Activities

There was also activity last week at the state level.

In Tennessee, Gov. Lamar Alexander announced the creation of the “Christa McAuliffe Memorial Scholarship Fund,” which he said would be supported by private donors and would aid outstanding students in the state who want to become teachers. By the middle of last week, the fund had received $2,000 in contributions, an aide to the Governor said.

As chairman of the National Governors’ Association, Governor Alexander has called on other states to establish similar funds, the aide said.

The Kentucky department of education last week coordinated a nationwide flag-raising ceremony. On Feb. 4 at 11:39 A.M., exactly one week after Challenger exploded, education officials in more than 30 states raised the flag of “learning and liberty,” a special flag designed to commemorate the importance of public education, at one site in their state, according to Frances R. Salyers, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

She said a number of states were not able to participate because officials were not given enough notice.

Ms. McAuliffe was to have carried 200 miniature versions of the flag on her space mission and had planned to distribute them after the flight, Ms. Salyers said.

Children Raise Money

The efforts of two elementary-school students from Wyoming to collect money to help NASA build a new shuttle attracted widespread attention and were typical of student initiatives all around the nation.

Ten-year-old John McPhillips and his sister Missy, 9, saw the explosion on television and came home from school “wanting to do something so that the astronauts’ dreams would still go on, “ said their mother, Karen McPhillips.

After witnessing the tragedy and feeling close to it because of Ms. McAuliffe’s participation in the mission, “children needed something positive to build on, something positive to do,” Ms. McPhillips said. John hit upon the idea of asking other children at their school to contribute a little money to help NASA build a new shuttle. “The idea skyrocketed,” she said.

The local press wrote about the idea and soon newspapers as far away as the East Coast were telephoning to interview the McPhillips children. Ms. McPhillips said she had received dozens of calls from people all over the country wanting to raise money in their areas for a new shuttle. She has been encouraging people to send the money directly to NASA.

A Hitch

There is one hitch, however, according to Ms. Selby of NASA. Although the space agency can accept contributions, she said, regulations prohibit it from accepting money earmarked for a specific purpose.

A lawyer for the United States Space Foundation, a nonprofit scientific and educational organization that is also raising money to help build a new shuttle, is currently working with NASA to find a way to circumvent the regulation, said Robert H. Dupont, a symposium coordinator for the foundation.

In addition, Missy McPhillips has written to President Reagan to see if he can do something about the regulation, her mother said.

According to Mr. Dupont, the Space Foundation, located in Colorado Springs, Colo., had raised more than $40,000 by the middle of last week, $10,000 of which was donated by the foundation itself. He said a local company, Colorado Equipment and Total Fuels—a manufacturer of rocket fuel—had pledged to donate 2 percent of its profits over the next two years, probably about $250,000, to the shuttle-building effort.

NASA has estimated that building a new shuttle will cost about $2 billion. Mr. Dupont said he was not discouraged by the enormous sum that must be raised. “We just have a long way to go,” he said.

Fund for Children of Crew

In another development last week, officials of the American Security Bank in Washington, D.C., announced that Nancy Reagan had agreed to serve as honorary chairman of a trust fund established by the bank for the 11 children of the astronauts killed in the shuttle explosion.

Donations to the trust will help provide for the children’s health, education, and support, said Roger Conner, a bank spokesman.

Through last Tuesday, the bank had received more than 5,100 contributions to the trust, Mr. Conner noted. The dollar amount was not available, he said.

Vol. 5, Issue 22, Pages 1,17

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