With the 34th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster this past Tuesday, I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to Christa McAuliffe as the first teacher in space who perished on that fateful day back in 1986. And, I thought it would also be fitting to include Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut. Both are Progressive Pioneers who advanced space exploration for generations of future American female astronauts, young women everywhere.
Here are their stories:
Sharon Christa McAuliffe (A.K.A. Christa) is famously known for being chosen as America’s first teacher in space. Though, she never made it into space due to a tragic accident involving the Space Shuttle Challenger 73 seconds into liftoff on January 28, 1986.
Despite the loss of McAuliffe and the other six crewmembers aboard the space craft, which is regarded as a national tragedy, McAuliffe’s life is celebrated and honored all across the country.
Schools, scholarships, documentaries, and more have all been named in her honor.
She has inspired whole generations of kids since that fateful day to reach for the stars and to achieve their dreams.
McAuliffe was born in Boston on September 2, 1948. Her father, Edward Christopher Corrigan was an accountant of Irish descent, and her mother, Grace Mary Corrigan, was a teacher of Lebanese Maronite descent.
McAuliffe received a bachelor’s degree in Education from Framingham State College and a master’s degree in Education (supervision & administration) from Bowie State University.
She married Stephen J. McAuliffe in 1970, with whom she had two children, Scott and Caroline.
She eventually took a teaching job Concord High School (Concord, NH), where she would eventually apply for President Ronald Reagan’s Teacher in Space Project for NASA.
Out of 11,000+ applicants, she and teacher Barbara Morgan were the final two chosen in 1985, with McAuliffe earning the top spot.
Both McAuliffe and Morgan took a year’s leave of absence to train for the space shuttle mission designated STS-50-L.
McAuliffe was to conduct experiments and teach two 15 minute classes from space to millions of school children back on Earth.
But it was not to be. A failure of the O-ring of one of the shuttle’s booster rockets precipitated the now infamous accident.
However, McAuliffe’s legacy of inspiration lives on.
Here are but a few snippets of that legacy:
- The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord
- Asteroid 3352 McAuliffe named in her honor
- The crater McAuliffe on the Moon named in her honor
- The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference
- The Nebraska McAuliffe Prize (scholarship)
- Inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum
- Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning at Framingham State University
- The Congressional Space Medal of Honor (2004, awarded posthumously)
- Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act ($1 coin to be minted in 2021)
As a young girl, Christa McAuliffe was inspired by the heroic space missions of Project Mercury, the Apollo Space Program, and John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission.
“Do you realize that someday people will be going to the Moon? Maybe even taking a bus, and I want to do that!”McAuliffe once told a friend in high school.
Now the DX Revolutionary spirit of Christa McAuliffe spurs on the astronauts of today, and tomorrow.
“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.”Christa McAuliffe chatting with Tonight Show host Johnny Carson
Perhaps no single American woman astronaut has earned as may honors and accolades as Sally Kristen Ride.
She defines the word achievement.
First and foremost, Ride is the first American woman astronaut to reach space (1983). She is only superseded by USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982).
She is also regarded as the only known LGBTQ astronaut.
Ride held a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University, and was the only one to serve on both the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia accident investigation boards.
Dr. Ride sadly passed away due to pancreatic cancer at the age of 61 on July 23, 2012 in La Jolla CA.
But her life was nothing short of pure inspiration for generations of space and science explorers to come.
Ride was born in Los Angeles CA on May 26, 1951. Her parents were Dale Burdell Ride (a poly-sci professor at Santa Monica College) and Carol Joyce Ride (a volunteer counselor at a women’s correctional facility).
Ride attended college at Swarthmore College, University of California Los Angeles, and eventually Stanford University—all with a concentration on Physics.
What got her interested in being an astronaut was an announcement she saw in the Stanford student newspaper that said NASA was looking to recruit female astronauts.
She was one of over 8000 applicants. And in 1978 she was selected to be a part of NASA Astronaut Group 8.
After some time working in ground-based roles, she was finally selected for her now famous mission designated STS-7.
“Yes, I did feel a special responsibility to be the first American woman in space.”Dr. Sally Ride
And on June 18, 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
She would later join mission STS-41-G in 1984 also aboard the Challenger.
Ride was scheduled for a third mission, STS-61-M, but it was cancelled becasue of the Challenger disaster.
She was briefly married to astronaut Steve Hawley from 1982–1987. From 1985 until her death, Ride spent the rest of her life with her partner, author and former professional tennis player Tam O’Shaughnessy.
After leaving NASA around 1987, Ride worked as a professor at Stanford, and as director of the California Space Institute.
Her accolades are too numerous to detail here but here are a few highlights:
- National Space Society’s von Braun Award
- National Women’s Hall of Fame
- Astronaut Hall of Fame
- Inducted Ride into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts
- Inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame
- Receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States
- Authored six children’s books about science with life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, and they co-founded Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego
- 2019, Mattel, Inc. released a Barbie doll in Ride’s likeness as part of their Inspiring Women series
Sally Ride is a Progressive Pioneer who not only broke the glass ceiling of American space exploration but also set the standard for excellence in the sciences for all young women to follow.
“I think it’s important for little girls growing up, and young women, to have one in every walk of life. So from that point of view, I’m proud to be a role model!”Dr. Sally Ride
Learn more about Sally Ride here and below.
Sally Ride Science – Promoting learning and careers in science, technology, engineering and math [link].
BOOKS. Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space by Tam O’Shaughnessy. An unprecedented glimpse into the life and mind of the famously private, book-loving, tennis-playing physicist who made history.
Progressive Pioneers like Christa McAuliffe and Sally Ride not only inspire young women to reach for the stars but are heroes to girls and boys, women and men alike, the world over and above it!