spaceSpace and Physics

Lost Lessons Of First Teacher In Space To Be Recreated In Orbit


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Christa McAuliffe, seen here in zero-g training, would have become the first teacher in space. NASA

Two astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are going to recreate experiments that would have been performed by a teacher that lost her life in the Challenger disaster 32 years ago.

Christa McAuliffe was one of seven people who lost their lives when Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on its way to orbit on January 28, 1986. She had been set to become the first Teacher in Space, a NASA program to take civilians to space.


On the Shuttle, McAuliffe planned to carry out experiments, teach lessons, and conduct a tour of the Space Shuttle called “The Ultimate Field Trip”. Sadly, none of that came to pass when the Shuttle exploded.

But astronauts Joe Acaba, who is currently on the station, and Ricky Arnold, who is launching in March 2018, are planning to recreate her experiments and lessons, giving school children a chance to experience McAuliffe’s legacy.

"It's been 32 years since we lost the Challenger crew. One of them, of course, was Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, so I can't think of a better time or a better place to make this announcement," said Acaba in a live stream on Friday, January 19, speaking to students from Framingham State University in Massachusetts.

"I would like to announce that Ricky Arnold and I, over the next several months, will be working with the Challenger Center [a non-profit organization founded after the Challenger disaster] to record several of Christa's original lesson plans that she was to do in space."


Several of her lessons will be recreated, with the topics including effervescence, chromatography, liquids in zero-g, and Newton’s law. Some are going to be performed as she would have done them, while others will be reimagined with available materials. Videos will be released on the Challenge Center’s website in the spring.

McAuliffe’s flight would have been the start of an ambitious “civilians in space” program from NASA, with her mission being followed by a journalist, an artist, and then just about anyone. The program was dropped after the Challenger disaster – but McAuliffe’s pioneering mission will live on thanks to Acaba and Arnold.

“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, said in a statement.

“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 STEM is what will continue to advance a true legacy of Challenger’s mission.”


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