Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger 29 Years Later

By Liana Loewus — January 28, 2015 1 min read
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Twenty-nine years ago today, seven astronauts—including Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space—lost their lives when the space shuttle Challenger exploded a minute after take-off.

Education Week covered the lead-up to the 1986 launch—the 114 teachers competing for a spot on the mission and the delays that had hundreds of educators waiting around in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the historic take-off.

And then it covered the tragic launch itself.

“‘Shocked,’ ‘numbed,’ and ‘devastated’ were the words people most often used to describe their feelings,” wrote reporter Alina Tugend from Concord, N.H., McAuliffe’s hometown. “Even those who didn’t know Ms. McAuliffe—or Christa, as she is universally called here—knew a friend or a neighbor who did.”

“It was the classroom lesson no one had anticipated,” wrote reporter Lynn Olsen, of the 2.5-million students nationwide who were viewing Challenger’s takeoff when it exploded.

And on the 25th anniversary of the accident, it was clear McAuliffe’s legacy was still being upheld in classrooms.

“There’s a generation of teachers who were around and teaching at the time of the Challenger accident,” Dan Barstow, the president of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, told me for that piece. “For us, clearly, she was such an exceptional teacher, such an inspiring astronaut and educator. We still remember her and feel that.’

For complete coverage of the Teachers-in-Space program, which eventually did put teacher Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe’s backup, on a successful space mission in 2007, head to our archives.

Photo: The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members died in the explosion, which was blamed on faulty o-rings in the shuttle’s booster rockets. —Bruce Weaver/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.