Video: 25 years after Challenger, teacher’s words still resonate

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    >>> as nasa prepares to retire its space shut hadal fleet this year this week marks a somber anniversary that reminds us while shuttle flights became come mop, they never became routine. it was 25 years ago this coming friday the shuttle "challenger" exploded over florida, killing all seven crew members, including a new hampshire high school teacher. christa mcauliffe had had hoped to take teaching to new heights but despite the tragedy, her mission continues today.

    >> this was her last visit to our school.

    >> christa mcauliffe was the kind of teacher everyone wanted to v.

    >> let's hear from it. wila's group back there.

    >> reporter: and the kind of teach michaela pond aspires to be.

    >> i was so sad i never got to take her class my senior year because would you walk by her classroom and you would see her jumping off desks and making thens come alive and could you hear her laugh.

    >> reporter: now teaching in arlington, virginia, hahn was a student at concord high school in new hampshire when christa mcauliffe was chosen by nasa from among some 11,000 applicants to become the first teacher in space .

    >> to hear that there's going to be a way to talk to a teacher in space , this was all new ideas and how does that happen?

    >> reporter: mcauliffe trained for a year with the crew of the "challenger" and prepared a series of lesson plans she would teach from orbit.

    >> t minus ten.

    >> reporter: her dream, to inspire students to literally reach for the stars .

    >> we have main engine start.

    >> reporter: mary liscomb studied teaching with christa . teaching is something that i think christa was born to do.

    >> roger, "challenger."

    >> reporter: but fate interveeped on a cold january morning.

    >> "challenger," go at throttle up.

    >> reporter: all seven crew members perished went "challenger" exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. of course, christa mcauliffe never got to teach those lessons from space but after all these years, she has reached more classrooms and more students than she likely ever imagined.

    >> we acknowledge, we are standing by.

    >> reporter: in mcauliffe 's native massachusetts and some 50 other places, "challenger" learning centers are continuing the educational mission mcauliffe and her crewmates started. at the "challenger" center, students and often teachers embark on simulated space missions . the aim, to create excitement about math, science and space in schools and demonstrate the value of team work, the very things mcauliffe and the "challenger" crew had had hoped to accomplish.

    >> see how her legacy through this is teaching children,cooperate, how to communicate, to love math and science. it makes science and technology relatable.

    >> here is a teacher who took a risk. it didn't turn out the way she expected, but the high hopes she had for education impact all of them every day. they, too, can reach for the stars .

    >> reporter: today there are dozens of schools around the world named after christa mcauliffe , but there are countless teachers who have turned her life's story into a teachable moment.

    >> i always say there's nothing you can't do, you just have to try. and i try to talk in the way i know that christa inspired her students.

    >> there's more on the legacy of christa mcauliffe and the challenger crew our website, nightly.msnbc.com.

By
updated 1/23/2011 11:19:42 PM ET 2011-01-24T04:19:42

In the 25 years since the Challenger exploded on liftoff, Felicia Brown has gone to college, become a psychologist, gotten married and had kids. Fresh in her mind, though, is the memory of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher at her high school and family friend who to be the first teacher in space.

"I know how important her field trip into space was to her and how much she hoped to learn and share with students everywhere," said the Concord High School graduate, who at 43 is now older than McAuliffe was when she died at age 37. "I wouldn't want her sincerity to get lost in a textbook."

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A whole generation — including McAuliffe's own students — has grown up since McAuliffe and six other astronauts perished on live TV on Jan. 28, 1986, a quarter century ago this Friday. Now the former schoolchildren who loved her are making sure that people who weren't even born then know about McAuliffe and her dream of going into space.

Students who didn't know her now will when they attend a new school named in her honor.

Concord, a city of about 42,000 where the popular McAuliffe taught social studies, carries her legacy as a source of both fierce pride and painful memory. Some locals had mixed feelings when the name of space pioneer Alan Shepard, a New Hampshire native, was added to a planetarium originally named just for McAuliffe. Some people still tear up at the mention of her name.

But in ways both quiet and public, the city she left behind is making sure she lives on where her husband still resides, her children grew up and her remains are buried.

Brown didn't have McAuliffe as a teacher, but was a family friend and baby-sat for her children. Last spring, when her third-grade daughter had to work on a Concord history project, she encouraged her to devote it to McAuliffe.

Brown's mother, Carol Berry, was watching in person at Cape Canaveral, Fla., when the Challenger blew up. She headed the children's division at the Concord Public Library and worked with McAuliffe on a space-related reading program and had kept a scrapbook of the events leading to the shuttle launch and afterward. She helped with the project and talked to her granddaughter's class.

"It's difficult to have it all brought back to the forefront in my mind again," said Berry, 71. "Every year, I think about it again. I just feel so badly; it took away a lot of talent and what could've been a really wonderful project, experience."

Keeping McAuliffe's memory alive is also important to Holly Merrow, who graduated from Concord High in 1986 and now teaches in Portland, Maine. Merrow, taught by McAuliffe in a class about women in history, recalled that she made lessons fun, interesting and real — and she tries to do the same.

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Merrow teaches third grade but for several years taught a lesson about McAuliffe and the Challenger to students in the fifth grade and in middle school. She showed them a scrapbook full of NASA stickers, as well as articles on the explosion and McAuliffe's selection by NASA, in which she was chosen from more than 11,000 applicants in a contest to be the first civilian teacher on a space flight.

"I teach with teachers who weren't even alive then," she said. She admits it's been hard going back in time to give those lessons, saying, "I just well up sometimes."

The space mission would have been the ultimate field trip for McAuliffe, who stressed real-world, hands-on experience, high school alumni recalled. She volunteered after school with the Youth and Government club, which sent students to the Statehouse each year for a mock Legislature.

Former club member Daniel St. Hilaire, 43, now has an 18-year-old son and is on the state's Executive Council, which approves contracts and appointments. Long interested in astronomy, he worked at the planetarium in the 1990s and now is president of fundraising.

Image: Christa McAuliffe, left, and Barbara Morgan, right, laugh during training
AP
Christa McAuliffe and her backup, Barbara Morgan, at right, share a laugh during pre-flight training in 1986. After the Challenger tragedy, NASA told Morgan that she would be first in line if the teacher-in-space program was ever revived. Morgan finally flew on the space shuttle in 2007.

When he thinks about McAuliffe, he believes the most important lesson children can learn from her is to be involved in their community.

"A lot of people didn't realize that she had other interests. They always associate Christa with the space program," he said. "But really her love was for the kids and for involvement, and that's why she did the youth and government program. So the lesson learned here is to get involved, don't take a back seat, make a difference, and that's precisely what she did."

Brown and St. Hilaire were college freshmen at the time of the explosion and, like many other recent graduates, converged on their hometown seeking solace. Concord High held a special, private gathering in the gym.

Courtney Major, who graduated in 1988, was part of a Concord High class that was going to hear a lesson from McAuliffe from space and recalled the horror on students' faces — and the silence — when it became apparent the shuttle had exploded.

"It seemed like it took forever to find out if there was anybody alive," she said. The phones through which McAuliffe was supposed to conduct the lesson were quickly taken away.

Now 41, Major lives in Pittsburg, N.H., and takes cabin reservations in the Connecticut Lakes region. She has shared her McAuliffe memories with her children, including newspaper articles and an autographed picture.

The planetarium in Concord, the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, is holding a tribute to teachers on Friday, the night of the anniversary, followed by a program about McAuliffe.

The Concord school district has observed the anniversary quietly through the years. In a rare public comment, her husband, Steven McAuliffe, recently wrote a heartfelt letter to the board about the school being named after her.

"There is no honor that Christa would cherish more than to have her name associated with a school in the hometown that she loved so dearly," he wrote. "I hope generations of students, teachers and administrators who pass through the new school will be inspired by her most precious lesson — ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions when they remain true to themselves and follow their dreams."

Get the full story about the Challenger tragedy by reading an exclusive eight-part series by Jay Barbree , NBC News' Cape Canaveral correspondent.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The Challenger tragedy in pictures

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  1. From joy to tragedy

    The shuttle Challenger's mission in 1986 was meant to mark a milestone in spaceflight: the first orbital voyage of an American teacher. NASA's choice for the honor was Christa McAuliffe, a social-studies teacher at Concord High School in New Hampshire. Here, McAuliffe rides past the New Hampshire State House in Concord with her daughter Caroline and son Scott, during a Lions Club parade on July 21, 1985. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Packing for Houston

    High-school teacher Christa McAuliffe folds her training uniform as she packs for the trip to Johnson Space Center in Houston on Sept. 8, 1985. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Preparing Challenger

    The space shuttle Challenger is transferred to the high bay of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 17, 1985. Inside the cavernous VAB, the Challenger orbiter was mated with its solid rocket boosters and external tank in preparation for its launch a month later. (Terry Renna / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Zero-G and she feels fine

    Christa McAuliffe gets a preview of microgravity on NASA's specially equipped KC-135 "zero gravity" aircraft on Jan. 13, 1986. The plane flies in a parabolic pattern that provides short periods of weightlessness. For some people, those bouts of zero-G can induce nausea - which is why the airplane was nicknamed the "Vomit Comet." (Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. To the launch pad

    The shuttle Challenger is delivered to its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center atop a mobile crawler-transporter. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Practicing for an escape

    Challenger's crew members practice the procedure for escaping from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center using slide wire baskets. From left are Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. Directly behind them are astronauts Judy Resnik and Ellison Onizuka. The basket system was designed to take the astronauts off the pad quickly if an emergency arose just before launch. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Ready for flight

    Challenger's crew members stand in the White Room at Launch Pad 39B after a dress rehearsal for launch. From left are Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judy Resnik, commander Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, pilot Michael Smith and Ellison Onizuka. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Heading for the pad

    Challenger's crew members leave their quarters at Kennedy Space Center for the launch pad on Jan. 27, 1986. Commander Dick Scobee is at the front of the line, followed by Judy Resnick, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe and pilot Michael Smith. NASA had to scrub the launch attempt on Jan. 27, due to high winds at the pad, and liftoff was rescheduled for Jan. 28. (Steve Helber / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The first sign of trouble

    A launch-pad camera captures a close-up view of the shuttle Challenger's liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. From this camera position, a cloud of gray-brown smoke can be seen on the right side of the solid rocket booster, directly across from the letter "U" in "United States" on the orbiter. This was the first visible sign that a breach in the booster's joint may have occurred. Investigators determined that frigid overnight temperatures caused the booster joints' normally pliable rubber O-ring seals to become hard and non-flexible. The failure of the seals caused hot exhaust gases to blow through the joints, cutting into the external fuel tank. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Liftoff!

    A wide-angle view shows the ascent of the shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. In the seconds after ignition, the rocket engines' hot blast began the process of destruction. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Ice at the pad

    Why did the O-rings fail? On the day of the shuttle Challenger's launch, icicles draped structures at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The unusually cold weather, beyond the tolerances for which the rubber seals were approved, most likely caused the O-ring failure. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Watching the launch

    Classmates of the son of America's first teacher-astronaut cheer as the space shuttle Challenger lifts skyward from Launch Pad 39B on Jan. 28, 1986. Their delight turned to horror as the shuttle exploded 73 seconds into flight. The boy in the white hat and glasses at center is Peter Billingsley, the star of "A Christmas Story" and a spokesman for the young astronaut program. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The final seconds

    The right solid rocket booster on the shuttle Challenger begins to explode, just a little more than a minute into the shuttle's ascent from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 28, 1986. (NASA via AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Moment of tragedy

    An orange fireball marks the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. (Bruce Weaver / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Remains of the rockets

    At about 76 seconds, fragments of the orbiter can be seen tumbling against a background of fire, smoke and vaporized propellants from Challenger's external fuel tank. The left solid rocket booster is still shooting skyward. A reddish-brown cloud envelops the disintegrating orbiter. The color is indicative of the nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer propellant in the orbiter's reaction control system. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Flying fragments

    This picture, released by the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger tragedy, shows fragments of the orbiter flying away from the explosion on Jan. 28, 1986, 78 seconds after liftoff. The top arrow shows the orbiter's left wing. The center arrow shows the orbiter's main engine; and the bottom arrow shows the orbiter's forward fuselage. Investigators suggested that some of Challenger's crew members may have survived the explosion itself but died in the fall down to Earth. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The tragedy sinks in

    Flight director Jay Greene studies data at his console inside Johnson Space Center's Mission Control Center in Texas, just minutes after the announcement that Challenger's ascent was not nominal. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A family's sorrow

    Members of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe's family react shortly after the failed liftoff of the space shuttle Challenger from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 28, 1986. Christa's sister, Betsy, is in front, with parents Grace and Ed Corrigan behind. (Jim Cole / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Death of a celebration

    Carina Dolcino, senior class president at Concord High School, is stunned by the news that the space shuttle carrying Christa McAuliffe, one of the school's teachers, exploded after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Students watched the launch on television sets scattered throughout the school in Concord, N.H., and a celebration had been planned for a successful liftoff. (Ken Williams / Concord Monitor via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. White House watch

    President Ronald Reagan, center, is surrounded by members of his senior staff on Feb. 3, 1986, as he watches a TV replay of the Challenger shuttle explosion at the White House. From left are Larry Speakes, deputy White House press secretary; presidential assistant Dennis Thomas; special assistant Jim Kuhn; Reagan; White House communications director Patrick Buchanan; and chief of staff Donald Regan. (Peter Souza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sympathy at school

    Lisa Mitten of Concord, N.H., wipes tears from her eyes as her daughter Jessica reads some of the letters of sympathy that were on display at Concord High School on Feb. 1, 1986. Hundreds of Concord residents visited the school library to see the many telegrams and letters that were sent from all over the United States. (Toby Talbot / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Recovering debris

    Debris from the ill-fated shuttle Challenger is unloaded from the Coast Guard cutter Dallas during February 1986. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A piece of Challenger

    For weeks after the accident, search and recovery teams went out to retrieve Challenger debris from the Atlantic Ocean, with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy. Vessels brought pieces of debris to the Trident Basin at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, from which they were shipped to Kennedy Space Center for investigation. The Coast Guard cutter Dallas transported this fragment of exterior tiling. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Retrieved from the ocean

    A piece of debris from the space shuttle Challenger is hoisted onto the deck of the Stena Workhorse off the coast of Florida during a recovery mission. (Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Farewell to the fallen

    The remains of the shuttle Challenger's seven crew members are transferred from seven hearses to a MAC C-141 transport plane at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, for transport to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. In memoriam

    President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, stand with the wife of astronaut Michael Smith and other family members at a memorial service for the victims of the Challenger disaster. (Diana Walker / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Grim investigation

    Apollo 11 moonwalker Neil Armstrong, a member of the presidential panel investigating the Challenger explosion, listens to testimony before the commission in Washington on Feb. 11, 1986. Another commission member, David Acheson, listens in the background. A model of the space shuttle sits on the table. (Scott Stewart / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Solving the puzzle

    Search and recovery teams located pieces of both the left and right sidewall of the shuttle Challenger during the months-long retrieval effort that followed the explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. Heat and fire damage scarred the right sidewall. But the left sidewall, depicted here, escaped the flames and suffered only from overload fractures and deep gouge marks. The largest intact piece formed part of the payload bay sidewall and measured approximately 30 by 12 feet. (NASA Headquarters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Washed ashore

    Some pieces of the shuttle Challenger did not surface until long after the explosion. A tractor carries one of the shuttle's elevons after it washed ashore on Cocoa Beach, Fla., on Dec. 17, 1996 ... almost 11 years after the loss of Challenger and its crew. (AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Day of remembrance

    Every January, NASA recalls the Challenger explosion as well as other space tragedies on a "Day of Remembrance." Here, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe lays a wreath at the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Jan. 28, 2003. O'Keefe also paid tribute to the three astronauts of Apollo 1 who died in a launch pad fire on Jan. 27, 1967. Sadly, seven more astronauts died just days after this picture was taken, on Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Christa McAuliffe
    Jim Cole / AP
    Above: Slideshow (30) The Challenger tragedy in pictures
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