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Teacher in Space: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Legacy by Colin Burgess
Quest Volume: 27 #4 (2020)
Twenty years after the University of Nebraska Press first published this title, a revised edition has been released. My copy is an uncorrected proof, so the specific updates are not yet finalized. Written by Colin Burgess, the author of several books on spaceflight, Teacher in Space tells the story of S. Christa McAuliffe (the “S” was for Sheri, although she went by her middle name, Christa). One would be hard pressed to find someone interested in the space program who wasn’t familiar with her name and her tragic loss as part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, STS-51L—especially those who lived during the early Shuttle-era and watched the launch.
On 27 August 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced during a campaign speech to the nation that, “It’s long been a goal of our Space Shuttle, the program, to someday carry private citizens into space. Until now, we hadn’t decided who the first citizen passenger would be. But today, I’m directing NASA to begin a search in all of our elementary and secondary school, to choose…a teacher.” Christa McAuliffe won that competition, after roughly 45,000 teachers requested copies of the application and 11,000 applied. Key to her selection was her focus on what space meant to teaching and to students, especially young women.
The biography is a love letter that documents her journey—from childhood and growing up, getting married and becoming a teacher, learning about the opportunity to fly on the Shuttle, the selection process, training to become an astronaut, and ultimately to her 1986 flight which experienced a “major malfunction” error 73 seconds into its flight causing the loss of all seven astronauts onboard as the nation (and I) watched in shock.
Teacher in Space is targeted to the general public and is not a long book (152 pages, 36 of those contain photos). Still, it provides great insight into Christa McAuliffe and covers a number of interesting topics including the application process for the teachers, her thoughts after watching the death of a high school student during a centrifuge test, her plans for “Classroom Earth” experiments in space, and what items she took in her PPK (personal preference kit).
This biography honors the life of Christa McAuliffe by telling her story. It is an insightful reflection on a time in the space program that brought great joy (that everyday people would be flying to space onboard the Shuttle) and ultimately great sadness.
About the Book
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Title: Teacher in Space: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger Legacy
Author: Colin Burgess
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
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