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Shaheen Statement on Anniversary of Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Christa McAuliffe CR statement

Senator Shaheen’s Congressional Record Statement Commemorating the Life of Christa McAuliffe. Full sized version can be found here. 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued the following statement on the 34th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster:

“The loss of the Challenger crew was a tragedy that touched the lives of millions of Americans and people across the world,” said Shaheen. “For Granite Staters, and for teachers and educators across the United States, there will always be a special place in our hearts for Christa McAuliffe. Christa McAullife was on a mission to space, but as a teacher, she was also on a personal mission to educate and enlighten. Today, we remember and honor her bravery, her passion for teaching and her tremendous legacy.” 

In October, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) to create a commemorative coin honoring Christa McAuliffe was signed into law. The same month, Senator Shaheen entered a statement into the Congressional Record celebrating Christa McAullife’s life and service. 

Senator Shaheen’s Congressional Record Statement can be found here or read below. 

Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the life and legacy of Christa McAuliffe. 

Christa McAuliffe was born on September 2, 1948, in Boston, MA. She grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and she studied American history and education in college and graduate school. After some time teaching high school in Maryland, she moved in 1978 with her family to New Hampshire, where she started work as a teacher at Concord High School. 

She was a passionate and dedicated teacher. She taught a variety of subjects, including history, economics, and law. Her former students describe her enthusiasm and her creativity in planning lessons and activities for students. She even developed an original course, called ‘‘The American Woman.’’ One of her former students says, ‘‘She was very exuberant in her teaching and excited about what she was teaching. She was always willing to help outside of the classroom if you needed it. I remember her constantly, every day that I stayed late after school to make up work that I’d missed for other classes… checking in to see if there was anything she could do to help me.’’ 

Christa believed strongly in the importance of the teaching profession and in working creatively to help students understand the human side of historical events. When NASA launched its Teacher in Space Program in 1984, Christa seized the opportunity and applied for what she called the ‘‘ultimate field trip.’’ She wrote in her application to NASA: 

In developing my course, The American Woman, I have discovered that much information about the social history of the United States has been found in diaries, travel accounts and personal letters. This social history of the common people… gives my students an awareness of what the whole society was doing at a particular time in history. They get the complete story. Just as the pioneer travelers of the Conestoga wagon days kept personal diaries, I, as a pioneer space traveler, would do the same… My perceptions as a non-astronaut would help complete and humanize the technology of the Space Age. Future historians would use my eyewitness accounts to help in their studies of the impact of the Space Age on the general population. 

Her application was chosen out of more than 11,000 applications submitted by teachers from around the country. 

Even during her busy NASA training schedule and newfound public attention, she remained dedicated to her students back home in New Hampshire. She flew all the way back from Houston, in the middle of training, in order to be there for the first day of school at Concord High. She even somehow found the time to write college recommendations for her students on the day before the Challenger launch. 

She planned to keep a journal and teach lessons from space. She wanted to humanize space travel and make the experience accessible to regular people. She said that she hoped her experience and the public attention would inspire more people to become teachers. 

Tragically, on January 28, 1986, the Challenger shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after launching, killing Christa as well as the rest of the crew: Gregory Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik and Dick Scobee. 

Many people know that Christa’s motto was ‘‘I touch the future, I teach,’’ and that statement remains as true today as it ever was. More than 30 years later, Christa McAuliffe continues to inspire new generations of students and teachers. In fact, a number of Christa’s former students have gone on to become teachers themselves. One in particular says she at times turns to the question ‘‘What would Christa do?’’ for guidance. 

Schools and science centers across the country are named for her. In New Hampshire, we have the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, an air and space museum and planetarium, as well as the Christa McAuliffe School, an elementary school in Concord. There have even been an asteroid and a crater on the moon named after her. 

The Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act was signed into law by the President on October 9. The enactment of this legislation means that a commemorative coin in Christa’s honor will be minted by the U.S. Treasury in 2021. Proceeds from the sale of this coin will go to support science, technology, engineering and math, STEM, education. 

Christa McAuliffe demonstrated throughout her life how to make the world a better place, not only through once-in-a-lifetime feats of bravery but also through her everyday actions and interactions with those around her. I hope we can all continue to look to her example for inspiration and ask ourselves ‘‘What would Christa do?’’