September is, in many ways, a month of new beginnings. For a lot of countries around the world, it is the start of a new academic year. It is a month following exam results; and, it is a time when students become more independent and move away from home to go to university.
On 2 September 1948, Christa McAuliffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Now, you may not have heard of Christa, but you might think her name sounds familiar. Well, on January 28, 1986, McAuliffe, along with 6 others, died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, 73 seconds into its flight off Florida. It disintegrated at 46,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean.
Christa McAuliffe was a high school teacher and of the crew on board, she was considered to be its only ‘ordinary’ citizen. Partly due to this, The Challenger’s launch (The shuttle is pictured above, in 1983) created a media frenzy, both in the USA and internationally. For McAuliffe, it was a major achievement to get accepted on to the Challenger expedition – she was among over 11,000 applicants to the program and the only one who won a place on board, subsequently spending many months training.
Very sadly, this event, which should have been exciting for so many reasons, resulted in tragedy. The consequences for NASA as a renowned organisation were also significant. It became viewed with suspicion – and many people lost faith in it. The Challenger had exploded due to technical reasons, coupled with the fact that the weather on 28 January 1986 was colder than it should have been. That had resulted in some features of the shuttle malfunctioning, and as a result the Space Shuttle Programme was grounded for the next two years.
So, the 2nd of September is a time we often associate with new beginnings – with back-to-school shopping trips and a time to say goodbye to summer and hello to autumn. For the McAuliffe family, it was a time to celebrate Christa’s birthday. But in light of what happened to her, it is also a time to remember the amazing opportunity this high school teacher had, and how it went so disastrously wrong.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Challenger disaster and NASA, take a look online and see what you can find out.