On an unusually cold Florida morning on January 28, 1986, America was shaken to its core. For it was on that day STS-51-L roared off pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, carrying with it the hopes, aspirations, and cheers of every school child in the country. A mere 73 seconds later, the space shuttle Challenger was engulfed in flames. On board was the future — the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
By 1986 spaceflight had become a routine, even mundane, event for most Americans. NASA wanted to rekindle the excitement and wonder that had aroused so much national pride during the early years of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. What better way to do this than by having someone lead us all on the Ultimate Field Trip. Thus was born the Teacher in Space program, with Christa McAuliffe as our tour guide.
Inspiration comes in many forms, but the relationship between a child and a supportive, committed and caring teacher has the magic to encourage our youth to go farther and longer when nobody else believes. Whether a boy or a girl reaches for the stars or aspires to create enchanting art, it is the teacher who always believes in the highest potential. Christa McAuliffe was the point person of an entire army of teacher cheerleaders whose highest praise is to see their students succeed.
On this, the 11th annual simulated 24 hour space mission at Columbus Magnet School, this year’s crew of 18 young astronauts is dedicating their mission to the dream that was Christa McAuliffe’s. For although it has been 20 years since Christa McAuliffe died while living America’s dream of the cosmos, her inspiration, and that of teachers everywhere, has never died in the hearts of America’s school children. It is for this reason that this year’s mission has been named “Project Inspire”.
It has always been part of America’s collective psyche that we see obstacles as opportunities, and even space misfortunes have been occasions for the United States to rebound back to its rightful place as a leader in science, technology, and exploration. It is for this reason that this year’s mission also celebrates the 5th anniversary of the International Space Station as a floating habitat and laboratory.
For 11 years it has been a goal of the Columbus Young Astronaut program to pursue knowledge and teamwork. Unquestionably, though, it is the inspiration of Christa McAuliffe that is at the heart of this year’s mission. Accordingly, the committed fifth graders chose to speak the language of science, Latin, in conceiving part of their mission patch: Ex casu venit endito. “From tragedy, comes inspiration” — words that Christa McAuliffe would have taken great pride in.
We the students, parents, and teachers at Columbus consider it a privilege to honor Christa McAuliffe’s dream and sacrifice 20 years after the Challenger tragedy.
When President Reagan eulogized Christa McAuliffe and the crew of Challenger, he spoke for an entire nation:
The future is not free: the story of all human progress is one of a struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last, best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was expected or required and who gave it little thought of worldly reward.
Thank you, Christa McAuliffe — you are teaching us still.