Social Studies

Three Decades After Challenger Disaster, Remembrances and Change

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — January 28, 2016 1 min read
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Thirty years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger burst into flames as the nation watched. Among the seven crew members who lost their lives in the disaster was Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space.

McAuliffe’s presence on the flight was a national event, part of an effort to inspire students around the country to get interested in science and outer space.

Education Week was at the launch as it turned from celebration to mourning, and also chronicled the reaction in classrooms around the country to the tragedy. The full coverage of NASA’s Teachers in Space program, which turned McAuliffe into an astronaut, and this story about how schools and teachers remembered McAuliffe 25 years after the disaster, are worth reading.

It wasn’t until more than 20 years after the Challenger, in 2007, that Barbara Morgan became the first teacher in space.

NASA will be marking the anniversary today with its annual Day of Remembrance, which commemorates the Challenger crew and others who lost their lives furthering the cause of space exploration. NASA Television will air a wreath-laying and remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow morning.

McAuliffe’s alma mater, Framingham State University, will also mark the anniversary with a memorial event, the Metrowest Daily News reports.

In 2016, space travel is no longer the sole purview of NASA: Private space travel is becoming closer to reality, as Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk launch rockets and promise to build cities in space. Teachers in Space, the now-defunct NASA program that helped McAuliffe become an astronaut, has also been revived as an independent nonprofit. But NASA has remained involved in education through a STEM initiative and other programs for students and teachers.

Photo: The official NASA photo of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission 51L. All seven members of the crew were killed when the shuttle exploded during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. From front left, are: astronauts Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, and Ronald E. McNair. Rear left are: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. --NASA/AP-File

The Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Jan. 28, 1986. The entire crew of seven was lost in the explosion 73 seconds into the launch. --NASA/AP-File

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