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This story ran in The Boston Globe Jan. 29, 1986, the day after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, the last major disaster of the US space program.

'Reach for the stars' was McAuliffe's theme for her historic space mission

By Thomas Palmer, Globe Staff, 1/29/1986

Christa McAuliffe's theme for her history-making mission was characteristically ambitious: "Reach for the stars."

But she was a warm and unassuming woman, friends and colleagues say, uncomfortable with an expensive homecoming celebration some had planned for her. "It's not the Olympics," she told a newspaper reporter. "It's Concord, New Hampshire, and a homecoming should reflect the community I'm part of." Sharon Christa (Corrigan) McAuliffe, 37, a social studies teacher, died along with six fellow crew members shortly before noon yesterday, when the Challenger space shuttle exploded moments after liftoff. McAuliffe was scheduled to give two science lessons during the six-day mission that were to be beamed to classrooms in the United States and broadcast via satellite on the Public Broadcasting System.

When the shuttle launch was set for Jan. 23, McAuliffe's first lecture was scheduled to be delivered at 11 a.m. yesterday.

She had been chosen last summer from more than 11,000 teachers who applied for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's teacher-in-space program. McAuliffe, who preferred to be known as Chris, also was booked to go on a nationwide speaking tour when she returned to relate her experiences.

A teacher for the last 15 years, McAuliffe called herself the first "ordinary person" to fly in space, and she specialized in the social history of everyday people, of the average man and woman.

In Concord, she taught a course that she designed called "The American Woman," emphasizing that women as a group had been omitted from many accounts of history because they were not making military or political decisions. She said once that she wanted to teach about both men and women of the common variety -- "good people who lived and worked in our history and who you never hear about."

Said Bob Silva, assistant principal at Concord High School, where McAuliffe taught history, economics and law: "She makes history a living experience. That's why she's a perfect choice for the shuttle."

McAuliffe was hardly the stereotype of a New Hampshire resident: the conservative Republican. She was a normally outspoken union activist and self- described Kennedy Democrat. But her activist views and strongly held positions did not come out even in the considerable publicity that has surrounded her since she was chosen last July.

Her fierce determination was demonstrated by an incident three years ago, when she was president of the Bow, N.H., teachers union. With teachers' wages starting at below $10,000, the union was refused an increase by the school board and budget committee.

McAuliffe took the battle to a town meeting, and townspeople voted to increase salaries. "My sympathies have always been for working-class people," she said.

Mark Beauvais, a friend and Concord schools superintendent, said: "She is the kind of person that you look at her and say, 'How am I going to vote against a higher salary for her?' "

Known for her accomplishments at Concord High School, McAuliffe also was active in a Bible study class and recognized for her role in a local play, "Granny Greenthumb."

In her youth, McAuliffe was an all-star softball player, and she trained diligently for the Challenger flight.

Born in Boston on Sept. 2, 1948, McAuliffe graduated from Marian High School in Framingham, where her high-school sweetheart from her sophomore year was Steven McAuliffe. They later married.

She earned a bachelor's degree from Framingham State College, in the town where her parents still live. She held a master's degree from Bowie State College in Maryland.

Working as a waitress in a Holiday Inn, McAuliffe helped put her husband through Georgetown Law School after they moved to Washington.

Steven McAuliffe is now a civil rights lawyer and former New Hampshire assistant attorney general.

McAuliffe was remembered as "a great teacher" by a vice principal of Thomas Johnson Junior High School in Prince Georges County, Md., where she taught during the mid-1970s. McAuliffe also taught at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Maryland in the early 1970s, while her husband was a law clerk for an attorney and state legislator.

But in 1977 she insisted that the family move back to New England, where she continued her beloved profession of teaching.

"This is a kind of a personal message from me," McAuliffe told the Globe recently in an interview about her upcoming mission, "and that is that teachers are good communicators, they do an important job in our society.

"If I can get some student interested in science," she added, "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."

Besides her husband, McAuliffe is survived by a son, Scott, 9; a daughter, Caroline, 6; her mother and father, Edward and Grace Corrigan of Framingham; and two sisters and two brothers, Betsy, Lisa, Steven and Christopher.



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