She was supposed to be the first teacher in space. But a disaster that took place on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle "Challenger" exploded 73 seconds after launch over the Florida skies changed everything.
Christa was born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1948 in Boston to Edward and Grace Corrigan. She was the eldest of five children. She became interested in space at an early age, later writing on her NASA application, "I watched the Space Age being born, and I would like to participate." Christa grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts and graduated from Marian High School in 1966. She then attended Framingham State College and graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in education and history.
She married her high school sweetheart, Steven McAuliffe, just a few weeks later. They moved to the Washington, D.C. metro area while he attended Georgetown University Law Center. Steven and Christa remained in the area for the next eight years, during which time Christa taught at two area schools and earned a Masters of Arts Degree in Education Supervision and Administration from Bowie State University.
In 1978, Steven took a job as the Assistant State Attorney General in Concord and the young family (their first child Scott was born in 1976) moved to New Hampshire. A second child, Caroline was born in 1979, and Christa accepted a position to teach at Concord High School in 1982. She was a well-loved teacher at the school who taught several courses, including American History, Law and a course she had designed herself, "The American Woman."
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the "Teacher in Space Project" and Christa submitted an application. She was selected as one of 10 Finalists out of more than 11,000 applicants. She went through a series of medical evaluations and briefings over the summer of 1985 and on July 15 it was announced that she had been selected. A second teacher, Barbara Morgan, served as a backup to Christa. Morgan later served as a Mission Specialist along with the crew of STS-118. After taking a leave of absence from teaching, they both trained for the Challenger mission, with NASA paying their salaries.
Christa was well-liked by the media and appeared on several television programs to promote the Challenger mission and Teacher in Space Program. Media coverage was extensive and schoolchildren across the country watched the disastrous launch, which killed all seven astronauts on board, live on television.
Since her death on that fateful day, Christa McAuliffe has been memorialized through scholarships in her name, many schools named in her honor and through the work of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, a planetarium and educational facility which teaches schoolchildren about space. There has also been an asteroid named in her honor as well as a crater on the moon and a crater on the surface of the planet Venus.
Many books have also been written about her life and a television movie, Challenger, was filmed in 1990. In 2004, President George W. Bush honored McAuliffe with a posthumous Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In February 2011 just after the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, construction began on the Christa McAuliffe Elementary School. The school will be located in downtown Concord.