Twenty-Five Years Later, McAuliffe’s Legacy Endures

By Kevin Hart

It was a historic mission that was not to be. On January 28, 1986, 25 years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into its flight, claiming the lives of seven crew members, including New Hampshire social science teacher and National Education Association member Christa McAuliffe.  

“We mourn seven heroes,” President Ronald Reagan told a shocked American public that had spent months spellbound McAuliffe had been chosen from more than 11,000 applicants to NASA’s The Teacher in Space Project. She was excited McAuliffe’s flight was also seen as significant for the entire teaching profession. She spurred discussions on the important role teachers play in inspiring students and preparing them to meet the challenges of the future.

“She was the ultimate teacher,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “She not only engaged in this extraordinary venture to captivate the imagination of students, Christa wanted to elevate the teaching profession so students would aspire to teach.”

Van Roekel said educators across the country still feel a tremendous sense of pride whenever they hear McAuliffe’s signature line, “I touch the future. I teach.”

While the Challenger disaster was a tragic, defining moment in American space history, McAuliffe’s legacy remains one of hope. She inspired a generation of teachers. She encouraged more girls to study and consider careers in science. In fact, over the past 25 years, participation McAuliffe’s ultimate quest was to foster a love of learning — a responsibility, Van Roekel said, that is felt “Christa McAuliffe was proud to be a member of NEA, and, as her colleagues, we continually share her mission of seeking new ways to help students succeed,” he said.  “NEA honors Christa and the millions of teachers who inspire students every single day to work harder, dream bigger and shoot for the stars.”