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Honoring NASA ‘Teacher in Space’ Christa McAuliffe on the Anniversary of the Challenger Disaster

Honoring NASA ‘Teacher in Space’ Christa McAuliffe on the Anniversary of the Challenger Disaster

by Karen Ocamb on January 28, 2012

"Teacher in Space" Christa McAuliffe (Photo courtesy Renee Sotile)

NASA’s space shuttle program, which was shelved last year, became a hot-button jobs issue during the CNN Republican presidential debate in Florida Thursday night, Jan. 26.   with candidates talking about the importance of the Space Corridor.  Space flight has become so routine these days that few remember President John F. Kennedy’s inspirational commitment during the “space race” in 1962 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Kids like me wondered at the seemingly impossible prospect of slipping “the surly bonds of Earth.” http://www.skygod.com/quotes/highflight.html  Big kid Walter Cronkite was in awe when the Apollo 11 landed and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project. More than 11,000 teachers applied and NASA selected Christa McAuliffe, with Barbara Morgan as her backup. On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, school children around the world watched the “live” launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger – and it’s explosion 73 seconds later.  Among those shaken by the Challenger disaster was lesbian filmmaker Renee Sotile who, with her partner Mary Jo Godges, set out to discover and memorialize “Teacher in Space” Christa McAuliffe. Their sincerity won them the rare cooperation of NASA and McAuliffe’s mother. Along the way, they discovered that McAuliffe had been an advocate for gay rights. Their documentary – Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars – won awards and aired on CNN. On Feb. 25, there will be a free screening at 2:00pm at the West Hollywood Library. (See more below; click here to see a trailer)

Here’s what Renee told me about the project:

26 years ago today the space program changed. NASA came to an abrupt stop. On Jan. 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Along with the six astronauts on board Challenger was NASA’s first Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe. For two years after the Challenger disaster, there were no shuttle flights and civilians were never again allowed on a shuttle.

The imprint of seeing the explosion was so deep that 15 years later my partner Mary Jo and I began producing an independent documentary on Christa McAuliffe, the world’s most famous teacher and, besides our own favorite teachers – the teacher who had the biggest impact on us.

It took five years to make Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars. It aired on CNN Presents in time for Challenger’s 20-year anniversary. I am so proud of this film I feel it is the single most important thing I will ever do.

But what began as a tribute to an American Heroine turned into something much bigger: we learned that getting on the shuttle was just an extension of who Christa was and all that she’d accomplished before that. And perhaps more importantly, we learned from Christa something we can imitate: she died as she lived – doing something she believed in and believing in everything she did.

Our experience with Christa McAuliffe continues to impact us today: from her anti-bullying stance and gay rights advocacy to her pioneering spirit – we feel we are following in her trajectory to continue to explore every unknown challenge we face.

Today we honor the crew:

Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. There’s a free Screening of Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars, narrated by Susan Sarandon,  on February 25th at 2PM for ages 10 and up.

West Hollywood Library

Children’s Theater
625 N. San Vicente Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

(310) 652-5340

Filmmaker Q&A to follow

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

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