Christa McAuliffe – Teacher, Astronaut

Christa McAuliffe’s birthday was September 2nd. It seems appropriate to include her here as the school year begins.

CHRISTA MCAULIFFEChrista McAuliffe’s First Woman To. . .achievement was made possible by President Ronald Reagan when he decided that the first civilian in space should be a teacher. As he put it, they are “America’s finest.” The application was requested by 45,000 teachers, but only 11,000 completed the lengthy form. From that group the number was reduced to ten who then trained and competed for the slot.

Christa McAuliffe’s proposal for her program in space was not the most ambitious among the applicants. It was, in fact, rather simple. She would keep a journal of her adventure and share it. While preparing a class for her high school students on the American Woman, she was inspired by the personal journals of women who pioneered the West. She believed that, as a pioneer in space, she should preserve this tradition. She was convinced that social history is enriched by “diaries, travel accounts and personal letters.” According to her mother, Christa believed that “history wasn’t made by presidents and kings and politicians and wars, that it was common man that really had the big part of history.” Just as she encouraged her students to interview their parents and grandparents about their lives, she wanted to preserve her own life for her children.

Field trips and speakers from outside were always part of her classes and she saw the journey into space as the ultimate field trip. On January 28, 1986, she was launched into space. McAuliffe had always believed in dreams. She was convinced that even a C student could become a poet. Her poem was cut short that day when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds into the launch.

Stunned students, watching on televisions in their classrooms and auditoriums across the country, learned a different lesson than the one she had wanted to teach that day. Their teachers must have struggled with the words to comfort and explain, but then teachers have always been skilled at helping children through difficulties. Not all of them are awarded with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, as was Christa McAuliffe, but many of them are as courageous.

Afterword: Barbara Morgan, Christa McAuliffe’s backup for the space ride on Challenger, stayed with the space program and flew to the International Space Station aboard Endeavour in 2007.


In spite of the lengthy commercials, this video is worth the time:



Sally Ride – Astronaut

          Today there is serious discussion about the importance of STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)for our nation’s economy, and also about how to make these fields attractive to women. Sally Ride was ahead of the curve.

     SALLY RIDE 1 FOR DRAFT BLOG 4     American space travel in the last half of the twentieth century is filled with firsts: the first to go into space, the first to circumnavigate the globe, the first to land on the moon, but all these firsts were accomplished by men. Even though women trained alongside men in the early U.S. space program, it was determined (without any scientific evidence to support the contention) that women were not suited for space travel and they were eliminated from astronaut training. This was not true in Russia where the first man into space, Yuri Gugarin, orbited the earth in 1961 and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space two years later. In the United States the first man into space made a suborbital flight a few weeks after the first Russian man, but it was another seventeen years before Sally Ride was admitted to astronaut training and twenty-two years before Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space.

When she was young, Sally Ride thought she might pursue a career in tennis since she was nationally ranked as a junior, but her studies at Stanford changed her mind. After earning a double major in English and Physics, she decided to pursue a career in Physics and earned a doctorate. It was in the Stanford newspaper that she saw the advertisement soliciting applicants to the space program and she was one of 8,000 people who applied. On June 18, 1983, she was launched into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Her second flight was the first with a five-person crew and the first with two women crewmembers.

She was preparing for her third flight when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all onboard, including Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space. All flights were cancelled and Dr. Ride served as a member of the Presidential Commission that investigated the accident.

When she left NASA, Dr. Ride became director of the California Space Institute at the University of California, and a professor of Physics. She inspires girls and young women to study science and math through Sally Ride Science, an organization she founded and served as president and CEO. President Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian in our country. It was presented to her family the year after she died.


Read the Mashable editorial by Amanda Willis on why we need to focus on more than the fact that Sally Ride was the First Woman To. . .:

For a bio and video about Sally Ride’s thoughts on being the First Woman To. . .:

Sally Ride’s official NASA bio:

There are a number of book-length biographies of Sally Ride, most of them written by women.


Were you encouraged to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects or pushed to more “traditional” fields for women?