Remembering Christa McAuliffe 20 Years Later

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 28, 2006 — -- Christa McAuliffe was to be the first "regular" person to travel to into space.

She was not a scientist or an elite pilot, but rather a high-school social studies teacher making the journey on board the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. NASA was hoping that putting a civilian on board would rekindle some of the excitement of the earlier missions.

McAuliffe, 37, of Concord, N.H., was chosen from more than 11,000 applicants. For months, she trained with her fellow astronauts.

On the day of the launch, McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, was there at Cape Canaveral. She watched her daughter and six other crew members, seemingly unworried, board the spacecraft.

At Concord High, where McAuliffe taught, students and teachers gathered in the auditorium to watch on television.

"It was euphoric," said Bill Haubrich, Concord High's assistant principal. "It has like, 'Hallelujah, look at this! Our Christa's going up in space. It's amazing.' "

Then the Challenger exploded.

"We all knew something was wrong, but we just hoped," Corrigan said. "It was just one of those things. You didn't want to believe what you were seeing."

"I can remember it just took my stomach and put it right up my throat," Haubrich said.

"No one knew what to do, or no one knew what to say, really," Corrigan said. "We knew she was gone. I mean, we knew she was gone, there was really no doubt even though they didn't have an answer."

Today, 20 years later, McAuliffe's legacy lives on. There are scholarships in her name and a planetarium in New Hampshire named after her.

She also is remembered as Barbara Morgan, the teacher who trained as her backup, is in line to go on an upcoming shuttle mission.

"I remember her saying she wanted to share the wonder and joy of exploration," Morgan said. "She believed that history and the future are made by everyday people."

For more information on Christa McAuliffe, visit

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