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The Teacher In Space Program: 21 Years Later July 10, 2007

Posted by Weird Science Writer in Easy As Pie, Neat Science Jobs, Space Exploration.

When biologist and teacher Lauren Tunnell investigated the Teacher in Space Program, she found that even after disaster struck, a passion for learning has kept the program alive and thriving.

Space Challenger Lift Off

21 Years Ago

On the 28th of January in 1986, America had its eyes turned toward Florida for the launch of space shuttle mission STS-51-L. All space shuttle launches are exciting, but this one was really exciting because schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe would be aboard this mission as the first participant for the Teacher in Space Program.

Space ChallengerFirst Teacher In Space

McAuliffe and her back-up, Barbara Morgan, were chosen from over 11,000 applicants for the honor of becoming the first teacher in space. For several months, they trained together in Houston for the journey into orbit. McAuliffe’s mission was to teach school-aged children about the space program and inspire young people to reach for their dreams-especially in the areas of science and technology. Morgan was also prepared to make the trip in the event that McAuliffe was unable to.

Millions Watched In Anticipation

As she was getting ready for her space flight, McAuliffe received a lot of attention from the media. The American people liked her and they were excited about her passion and energy for teaching them about the space program. On the day of the launch, millions of people-including many children in classrooms all across America-stopped what they were doing to watch television and see McAuliffe’s eagerly awaited send-off on Space Shuttle Challenger.

An Unexpected Outcome

Tragically, seventy-three seconds after it left the launch platform that morning, Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart and its remnants fell into the ocean. While countless people watched on television, the spacecraft was destroyed and everybody aboard was killed, including McAuliffe.

challenger-accident-3.jpg challenger-accident-2.jpg challenger-accident.jpg

The Mission Continues

Although McAuliffe was gone, the Teacher in Space program continued. McAuliffe’s backup, Morgan, continued her mission of space exploration education both through her work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and her continued employment as an elementary school teacher. In 1998, Morgan joined the astronaut corp, and has been employed as a full-time educator and astronaut ever since. Although she still has not been to space, that is about to change very soon.

McAuliffe and Morgan

Credit: All pictures courtesy of NASA.

Passion For Space Exploration

Morgan is scheduled to finally become the first teacher in space on the 7th of August in 2007 as a member of the STS-118 crew. From space she will continue McAuliffe’s original mission to instruct students from orbit, inspire future astronauts and engineers, and inform the general public of the goings-on of the space exploration.

Morgan is scheduled to teach from space next month. You can follow her journey and her lessons at NASA STS-118 Education Resources.

Lauren Tunnell is an educator and freelance writer living in Houston, Texas.

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