Mission 51-L

The “Teacher In Space” Mission

August 27, 1984

President Reagan announces that an elementary or secondary schoolteacher would be chosen as the first “citizen passenger” to fly into space aboard the space shuttle. “I am directing NASA to begin a search in all of our elementary and secondary schools and to choose as the first citizen passenger in the history of our space program one of America’s finest: a teacher,” said President Reagan. “When that shuttle lifts off, all of America will be reminded of the crucial role teachers and education play in the life of our nation. I can’t think of a better lesson for our children, and our country.”


July 19, 1985

From a field of nearly 11,000 applicants, 114 semifinalists and 10 finalists, Christa McAuliffe, 36, is chosen to be the first teacher in space. Barbara Morgan, 33, is picked as her backup. Christa, a high school social studies teacher from Concord, would teach two, 15-minute lessons from the Space Shuttle. The lessons would be broadcast into classrooms across America.


January 28, 1986

8:23 a.m. ET – The Crew boards Space Shuttle Challenger. The Challenger Crew is made up of Commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, Ronald E. McNair and Payload Specialists Gregory B. Jarvisand S. Christa McAuliffe. The launch delayed three more hours due to ice build-up on the launch pad. It was 38 degrees at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.11:30 a.m. ET – Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off. Seventy-three (73) seconds into flight, at an altitude of 48,000 feet, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded.

5:00 p.m. ET – President Reagan spoke to a grieving nation. Among his remarks, he took care to mention the children who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s launch: “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”

For more information on the STS-51L mission, click here.