Christa McAuliffe was a New Hampshire social studies teacher selected from 10,000 applicants for the NASA program to send an educator into space. But her life was cut tragically short when she and her six fellow crew members were killed when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986. Ahead of the new Netflix documentary Challenger: The Final Flight, here’s what you need to know about the family she left behind and where they are today.
McAuliffe Married Her High School Sweetheart & Had 2 Children
Cheering her on from the ground when the Challenger went into space were McAuliffe’s husband Steven and her two children, Scott and Caroline. Christa Corrigan met Steven McAuliffe in high school, according to Biography, and they were married right after graduating from college. After undergrad, Steve McAuliffe went to Georgetown University Law School; they eventually moved to New Hampshire because he took a job as an assistant to the New Hampshire Attorney General. Christa McAuliffe was hired to teach at Concord High School in 1983.
When she was chosen for the NASA program, Christa said, “As the first space participant, I am very delighted to be part of the program. I think it’s going to be very exciting for kids to turn on the TV and see that space is for everybody.”
On the fourth day of the mission, Christa had planned to teach the first class from space, titled, “The Ultimate Field Trip,” according to the Washington Post.
The McAuliffes had two children — Scott, who was 9 at the time of the explosion that killed his mother, and Caroline, who was 6. They were watching the launch from the roof of the nearby Launch Control Center.
At the 30th anniversary memorial for the astronauts killed in the explosion, Scott McAuliffe stood outside the Kennedy Space Center holding a white rose alongside Alison Smith Balch, daughter of Challenger pilot Michael Smith, and Kathie Scobee Fulgham, daughter of Challenger commander Francis Scobee and her brother Air Force Brigadier General Richard Scobee.
Caroline and Steven McAuliffe chose not to attend, according to the Daily Mail. But Scott and Caroline McAuliffe both became teachers like their mother, and Steven McAuliffe is now a federal judge. On the 30th anniversary, according to CBS News, he issued a statement that read:
The passage of 30 years since the Challenger accident is not of great personal significance to our family. For us, Challenger will always be an event that occurred just recently. Our thoughts and memories of Christa will always be fresh and comforting. We are happy to know that Christa’s goals have been largely accomplished in that she has inspired generations of classroom teachers and students, and has focused public attention on the critical importance of teachers to our nation’s well-being.
McAuliffe Also Left Behind Her Parents & Siblings
McAuliffe, whose first name was actually Sharon but who went by her middle name of Christa, was the oldest of five children born to Edward and Grace Corrigan. Her sisters were Lisa and Betsy and her brothers were Steven and Christopher.
Lisa was interviewed for the Netflix documentary, reading from a journal entry she wrote on July 4, 1985, six months before her sister’s death.
There has been quite a bit of excitement recently. This coming January, a space shuttle will be launched carrying one of America’s teachers. Each state elected two representatives and I am proud to have my sister as a representative from New Hampshire. Christa runs, plays sports, does not drink much, and never smoked, and I think she has a great chance. The final decision is up to NASA. It will be nice to see her today at my parents’ [house] … to celebrate Independence Day and the possibility of having an astronaut in the family.
She also recalled how special her sister was, saying:
Christa, my younger sister Betsy and I shared a room. … She would go out dates with her boyfriend, Steve, and when I would wake up in the morning, she would always have a little something next to Betsy and my’s dresser, like a book or maybe a piece of candy, and I thought that was an unusual thing for a teenager — to go out on a date and think about her siblings. But that’s just who she was. She and Steve both graduated from college and they got married. She was, I believe, 21. She had the belief that she could do extraordinary things, but she also believed that everybody could do extraordinary things. When she saw the Apollo go up, she said, ‘Boy, I wish I could go into space.’ She was thrilled by the idea that they were sending a teacher to space.
Following the explosion, McAuliffe’s family did not react publicly to the tragedy, until a year later, when Christopher Corrigan told the Associated Press (via the Los Angeles Times) that he thought NASA exploited his sister for the sake of publicity. He also accused the space program of using his sister because “she thought it was more safe than it was.”
“They shouldn’t be using the public for something that’s mainly for the government,” said Corrigan.
McAuliffe’s father died in 1990, but her mother Grace Corrigan lived until 2018, when she died at the age of 94, the Concord Monitor reported, after having raised five kids and gone back to school to get her degree at Framingham State College, also Christa’s alma mater. She also worked with Framingham State to establish the Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science and Learning at Framingham State University, according to the Boston Globe, and dedicated the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord to her daughter’s memory, the Concord Monitor reported.
Challenger: The Final Flight is on Netflix now.
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