Christa McAuliffe's Forgotten Lessons Will Finally Be Taught From Space

McAuliffe undergoing pre-flight training experiences weightlessness during a KC-135 'vomit comet' flight. (Photo: NASA)

For the 25th mission of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, astronaut and educator Christa McAuliffe planned numerous lessons and demonstrations aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger to share with students around the globe. As the primary candidate selected for the first Teacher in Space Mission, the 37-year-old social studies teacher from Boston was genuinely thrilled with the opportunity to inspire from hundreds of miles above Earth.

"I think it’s going to be very exciting for kids to be able to turn on the TV and see the teacher teaching from space," McAuliffe said in one of her last interviews. "I’m hoping that this is going to elevate the teaching profession in the eyes of the public and of those potential teachers out there. Hopefully, one of the secondary objectives of this is students are going to be looking at me and perhaps thinking of going into teaching as professionals."

The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-51-L. (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.
The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-51-L. (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik. (Photo: NASA)

McAuliffe never had the chance to fulfill her dream of teaching in space. On Jan. 29, 1986, Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven astronauts and stunning a nation watching live from classrooms and living rooms across America.

In the coming months, as part of NASA's Year of Education on Station, Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold — two former educators-turned-astronauts — will honor McAuliffe's legacy by filming some of her originally planned lessons on the International Space Station.

"We look forward to helping to inspire the next generation of explorers and educations," Acaba told students earlier in January at Framingham State University in Massachusetts via video from the ISS.

Acaba and Arnold's guides in conducting the demonstrations will come from both lesson plans left behind by McAuliffe and the pre-flight demonstrations she recorded to help teachers prepare students for her live exercises from space.

You can see one of those recordings, a dress rehearsal for "The Ultimate Field Trip," in the video below.

Other demonstrations will touch on liquids in zero gravity, chromatography, Newton's Law, hydroponics and effervescence.

"Filming Christa McAuliffe's lessons in orbit this year is an incredible way to honor and remember her and the Challenger crew," Mike Kincaid, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Education, told CNN. "Developed with such care and expertise by Christa, the value these lessons will have as new tools available for educators to engage and inspire students in science, technology, education and math is what will continue to advance a true legacy of Challenger's mission."

Once recorded, all of the McAuliffe lesson plans and videos will be made available to educators through the Challenger Center. The nonprofit, founded in 1986 by the family members of the lost astronauts, is dedicated to carrying forward the spirit of the crew's educational mission.

"We are thrilled to work with NASA’s educator astronauts to bring Christa’s lessons to life," said Lance Bush, president and CEO of the Challenger Center. "For more than 30 years, we have continued the mission of the Challenger crew, reaching more than 5 million students with our hands-on STEM programs. We are honored to have the opportunity to complete Christa’s lessons and share them with students and teachers around the world."

McAuliffe, whose personal motto was "I teach; I touch the future," would likely have applauded the effort to continue her mission to bring the awe and wonder of space exploration into the classroom. As she told reporters before the Challenger launch:

"If I can get some student interested in science, if I can show members of the general public what's going on up there in the space program, then my job's been done."