The Challenger Disaster

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 14046

A minute after takeoff, the space shuttle Challenger exploded. All crew members died, including a teacher who was to be the first private citizen in space. Americans were shocked. What happened?


United States, Verbal Communication

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • If you had the chance to take a flight into space, would you do it?

space shuttle flying in the sky at sunset

In August 1984, President Ronald Reagan launched a program to raise public interest in NASA's space program.

He offered one American school teacher a ride on the space shuttle. Of the 11,000 applicants, Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from New Hampshire, was chosen.

Christa McAuliffe

McAuliffe was amazed and thrilled to be chosen. She trained with astronauts for a year to prepare for the space flight. She would be tasked with performing experiments and teaching science lessons from space.

Other members of the crew were commander Dick Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, and engineer Gregory Jarvis.

The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L poses for their official portrait on November 15, 1985

McAuliffe received the most attention; she had an engaging personality and infectious enthusiasm. The news media and the American public loved her and were eager to see her succeed as the country's first citizen-astronaut.

So, when launch day came, many Americans tuned in to watch. Teachers around the country set up TVs in their classrooms so students could participate in this historic event.

But what they saw that day turned out to be one of the worst disasters of the American space program.

Watch a portion of the news broadcast from that infamous day, 28 January 1986.

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  • What happened to the Challenger?

Go to the Got It? section to solve that mystery.

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