The loss of the space shuttle Challenger was a national tragedy that was deeply personal for many in New Hampshire.
Thursday marks 30 years since Challenger broke up shortly after liftoff. Among the crew of astronauts was a 37-year-old high school teacher from Concord, Christa McAuliffe.
Her husband told News 9 that for his family, the Challenger accident will always feel like an event that occurred recently. He said he appreciates the strong community support that he and his children have received over the years.
In Concord, a school now bears McAuliffe’s name, and the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center welcomes children each day. The memory of McAuliffe and her flight crew continues to inspire children to reach for the stars at learning centers across the country and the world.
Children in San Antonio, Texas, are taking virtual trips to the International Space Station and conducting experiments at a new high-tech facility. In Framingham, Massachusetts, where McAuliffe attended college, students are working together as a team on a mission to Mars.
The highly interactive space adventures are the creation of Challenger Center, a nonprofit organization formed by the families of the Challenger crew in the days after the tragedy.
“People who really cared, people who believed in them wanted to continue that mission,” said Challenger Center founder June Scobee Rodgers, who was married to shuttle Commander Dick Scobee.
Scobee Rodgers led the effort to start Challenger Center, which aims to carry on the mission of the Teacher in Space program in memory of the flight crew.
“A tribute of something they loved so much, something they were willing to risk their lives for,” she said.
Scobee Rodgers, who is also a teacher, helped McAuliffe prepare some of the lessons she hoped to do in space.
“I think she is the nation’s teacher, and we all respected and admired her courage to fly aboard Challenger,” Scobee Rodgers said.
The centers hope to encourage children to explore and get them engaged in the areas of STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.
Astronaut Mark Kelly is on the Challenger Center board.
“The goal is to inspire some of these kids to be scientists, engineers, maybe medical doctors, because we really need that,” he said.
Thirty years after the shuttle tragedy there are more than 40 Challenger Centers in 27 states and four countries. Twenty communities are now vying to be next on the list.
“Thirty years later, almost 4.5 million children have had the experience of going up into space in our Challenger Center mission and being inspired to achieve more greatness in their life,” said Dr. Lance Bush, Challenger Center CEO.
McAuliff’s husband said she would have been very proud of the Challenger Centers, which reach hundreds of thousands of children every year.