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Remembering the Challenger Space Shuttle

When I saw that my friend Steve Miletto had posted  about the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, I was eager to read more.  In 1986 I was student teaching in a 5th grade classroom. I had planned a unit that involved following the progress of the Challenger and Teacher Christa McAuliffe’s adventure.  As a culminating activity twenty-five 5th graders in Santa Barbara, California watched the launch live with me and the Master Teacher.  When it exploded it was devastating.  This post took me back 30 years to that day.  I would like to share this post with you.


“We are awaiting word…”

I was walking back from class at Jacksonville University, Florida. The day was crisp and clear, but there was this one very strange-shapedcloud that was all alone in the middle of the sky. 

I was looking forward to getting some lunch and then getting caught up on an assignment or two. 

In the back of my mind, I remembered that the Space Shuttle should be out of sight by now. “Cool. Love the notion of space and planets and such”, I thought. 

Just then a fraternity brother, I think Jack, but I’m not sure, exclaimed, “Did you hear?” He didn’t give me time to respond. He rasped, ‘The Space Shuttle blew up!” What?  

I will never forget that day. It was the first time that NASA had lost astronauts in flight. 

The 25th Space Shuttle launch had had many problems and delays. In the end, it should have been scrubbed. 

How could you use the anniversary of the tragedy as a teaching moment in your classes? How could you turn the memory of this event into a lesson that would help kids understand more about their history and future?

I have included below the video clip of the CNN coverage of the Space Shuttle Challenger and President Reagan’s speech to the nation.

Here are some thoughts that might inspire you to design an activity or conversation for your classes to learn from actual events from the past as they were covered or presented in real time. 

1. The concept of learning from failure. Did this incident stop the space program?

2. The science involved with o-rings. What were they? What role did they play?

3. Space launches had become a typical thing. What could go wrong? Why would NASA push to put the Shuttle into space despite all of the problems and warning signs?

4. Why was it a big deal that a civilian was on board?

5. Take a look at the book, The Martian, use articles and documents pertaining to the deaths of White, and Chaffee, watch a segment of the movie Apollo 13, and then watch the CNN coverage and the President’s speech from 1986. Could you create a Socratic seminar around the US space program? Could students create an argument that we need to push ourselves to accomplish the impossible?

6. The President says that he wants to “say something to the schoolchildren who were watching.” Why would he do this?

7. The President references Sir Francis Drake. Take his words and have the students analyze these comments. What was his message?

8. How could you use the words of Frederick Jackson Turner in The Significance of the Frontier in American History, 1893 to explain why we as a nation (US) need to keep seeking new frontiers. Take a look at the concept that it is a deep part of who we are in developing your answer. 

I will forever remember that day. 

I hope that when we are confronted with walls such as the Challenger disaster presented that we never give up and always seek to get around, over and through those walls.

I encourage you to find a way to use the anniversary of the Challenger’s loss to help your students learn from the past.

Picture of the Challenger Crew

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