Christa McAuliffe honored by NH school on Challenger anniversary

Christa McAuliffe was a New Hampshire school teacher who was on the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded shortly after liftoff 25 years ago. Friday, the high school where Christa McAuliffe taught commemorated her life.

NASA/File/AP Photo
In this 1986 file photo, Christa McAuliffe, left, and Barbara Morgan, right, laugh during training.

Before he walked into the Concord High School auditorium named after Christa McAuliffe, 16-year-old Danny Losacano said he knew little about her.

He knew she was a teacher at his high school years ago and that she was to go into space. On Friday, the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion, he attended a special assembly in her honor. He came out having a better sense of who she was — and the great risk she and six others took on Jan. 28, 1986.

"We didn't fully know what happened," Losacano said. "Now we know a little bit more." He said he had no idea the space program was so dangerous for astronauts, and so expensive.

He had just watched a 30-minute slideshow on milestones in space history presented by Philip Browne, who retired last year as a science teacher at Concord High. Browne, 62, was a New Hampshire finalist in the national competition that selected McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space.

He volunteered to conduct four assemblies in the auditorium, which was named after McAuliffe in 1991. A painting of her in her astronaut uniform is in the lobby.

"I've always felt that it was important to teach those lessons that Christa wanted to teach as kind of a memorial tribute to the teaching profession," Browne said beforehand. "I didn't want that to die. I didn't want that whole process to fade away."

He added, "I've been blessed in a sense, that I wanted to go up there, and had I gone and been lost, I would have never known my daughter, who was born on the 22nd of January. And I wouldn't have been able to do what I do today."

Browne, who was teaching at Goffstown High School when he applied for the Teacher in Space project, met McAuliffe only once, when he and the other finalists were being interviewed by state officials. He was impressed by her zeal. He said he was proud of her self-confidence and the charm she showed in front of the cameras.

Gov. John Lynch proclaimed Friday as Christa McAuliffe Remembrance Day and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center was holding a free reception for educators and their families. A NASA administrator is scheduled to give a presentation at the center Friday evening about McAuliffe's life and legacy, which will be followed by a documentary created for the anniversary and a public tribute at the center's planetarium.

On Friday, there was no obvious display at Concord High itself in remembrance of McAuliffe. For the 20th anniversary of the shuttle explosion, the school exhibited material from McAuliffe's odyssey and offered students a documentary about the teacher-astronaut's life. A glass-encased display featuring her famous words, "I touch the future. I teach," drew attention to a teaching program offered by the Concord Regional Technical Center nearby, but no specific reference to McAuliffe.

During the first assembly, for the sophomore class, a few students who kept talking were asked to leave.

But other students paid attention, such as Aaron Chase, 15.

"I thought it was a good program," he said. "I like that they shared this with us."

Aaron said his parents have talked about Challenger and his mother had visited McAuliffe's grave in Concord. He said he would like to see it someday.

Browne ended his slideshow with a photo of McAuliffe's grave, noting its thoughtful epitaph that states how she helped people, appreciated the world's natural beauty and was curious to learn what the universe is about.

"As you read it with your teachers, read about a life well lived," Browne said. "Try to live a life that benefits the earth so that future generations can experience the same type of loveliness, the same chance at education, the same chance to enjoy a fulfilling life that Christa so much wanted for all of you."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.