Sharon Christa McAuliffe was born September 2, 1948, in Boston, Massachusetts to Grace and Edward Corrigan. The eldest of five children, she grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts where she graduated from Marian High School in 1966. She attended Framingham State College, graduating in 1970 with a BA in education and history. Upon graduation, she married her high school sweetheart, Steve McAuliffe, and began her teaching career as a substitute teacher at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Morningside, Maryland. Within a year, McAuliffe had acquired her first full-time position teaching American history, civics, and English at Thomas Johnson High in Lanham, Maryland. During their years in Maryland, McAuliffe gave birth to the couple's first child, Scott, born September 11, 1976, and received her Master's in education supervision and administration from Bowie State College in 1978.
The couple relocated to Concord, New Hampshire in 1978, where McAuliffe gave birth to their second child, Caroline, on August 24, 1979. In 1982, McAuliffe accepted a position to teach American history, law, and economics at Concord High School. It was here that she developed the curriculum for the course, "The American Woman." The course explored the history of the United States from the female perspective, and relied heavily upon the journals and letters of the women who lived it. It was here, too, that McAuliffe's reputation as an exuberant and creative teacher began to grow. She often brought her classes on field trips designed to expose her students to the real-life applications of classroom lessons.
On August 27, 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced that the first citizen in space would be a teacher. McAuliffe submitted her application on the last day they could be accepted. Her enthusiasm for the Teacher-in-Space Program was evident from her application essay: "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 program being born and would like to participate." Her proposed project included a three-part journal meant to capture the every day details of her experiences: the first part would focus on training, the second with the flight, and the third with the aftermath. McAuliffe was selected out of more than 11,000 applicants as one of the 114 semi-finalists to be interviewed in Washington D.C. In July 1985, she traveled to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as one of ten finalists for further interviews and tests. After a rigorous series of physical and psychological tests, it was announced by Vice-President George Bush on July 19, 1985 that Christa McAuliffe would be the first teacher in space.
McAuliffe's training for space mission STS-51-L began on September 9, 1985, and occupied the remainder of the year. The Challenger shuttle was scheduled to launch on January 22, 1986, but was delayed because of a dust storm in the Sahara Desert. Over the course of the next few days, the launch was delayed two more times. Finally, on January 28, 1986, the Challenger launched. The temperature the day of the launch was a record low; it was the coldest launch that NASA had ever attempted. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the shuttle suffered a leak in one of the solid rocket boosters that resulted in the explosion of the vehicle. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe along with her six crewmembers died in the crash.
During one of the many interviews throughout her training, Christa McAuliffe explained her mission as thus: "You have to dream. We all have to dream. Dreaming is okay. Imagine me teaching from space, all over the world, touching so many people's lives. That's a teacher's dream! I have a vision of the world as a global village, a world without boundaries. Imagine a history teacher making history!"
To learn more, visit:
The Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Collection at the Whittemore Library, Framingham State University
A Biography Channel documentary about Christa McAuliffe at biography.com.