More than three decades after Christa McAuliffe, America’s firs “teacher in space” lost her life aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger, the lessons she planned to share with children all over the world, will finally be taught aboard the International Space Station, in the coming months. McAuliffe, a Concord, N.H. educator, and the rest of the STS-51L crew perished on January 28, 1986, when the O-rings on the spacecraft’s solid-rocket booster, made brittle by an overnight freeze, failed. The ship exploded high over the Atlantic Ocean, witnessed by millions of horrified people, both at the Cape Canaveral launch site, and on live television.
Out of the ashes of that unforgettable morning, however, McAuliffe’s lessons will return to vivid life. The science principles she was to demonstrate, will be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS) in her honor, by astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold. These will include expositions of Newton’s laws of physics, as well as experiments with liquids, effervescence, and chromatography.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to complete Christa’s lessons and share them with students and teachers around the world,” said Lance Bush, president of the Challenger Center, a nonprofit group which promotes science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The lessons will be recorded aboard the orbiting station, and posted to the group’s website. McAuliffe was originally scheduled to deliver six lessons while flying aboard Challenger. Four of these are expected to be recreated by Acaba and Arnold—both former schoolteachers themselves–with a few modern touches made possible by the station’s technology. “[Doing these lessons] is an incredible way to honor and remember Christa”, said Mike Kincaid, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Education.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to complete Christa’s lessons and share them with students and teachers around the world,”
Encouraging young students to take an interest in STEM subjects, has long been a priority for the space agency, which looks to recruit tomorrow’s engineers, flight controllers, and astronauts from among today’s schoolchildren. Bringing back the fallen “teachernaut’s” schoolwork is expected to galvanize more support for Acaba and Arnold’s Year Of Education On Station program, which showcases life in orbit, along with science and math as they relate to the realities of spaceflight.
The ISS was constructed utilizing the Orbiters of the Space Shuttle system. Of the five spacecraft, Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Endeavour, and Discovery, two were lost on missions, the other being Columbia, which burned up on re-entry in 2001, with the loss of all hands. The knowledge gained from the two decades of flying, was instrumental in setting the stage for the upcoming interplanetary missions of the next decade, and the long-term exploration of space. Christa McAuliffe and her fellow star voyagers were part of building that legacy, and bringing her ;lessons back to their intended place—among the stars—is a fitting tribute to her passion for teaching and learning. The recorded classes are expected to be available online this spring.