The Challenger’s Teacher in Space Project: Photos and Video

by Judy Luis-Watson, Manager of Volunteer and Education Programs at the National Archives at College Park, MD

The inclusion of a teacher, who would become the first private citizen in space, made the Space Shuttle Challenger mission especially exciting. This was the U.S. Government’s twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, twenty-four of which had been completed successfully.

In August 1984, President Reagan announced NASA’s new “Teacher in Space Project,” which was a part of NASA’s Space Flight Participant Program, an education and outreach initiative. The application process was demanding and lengthy.

Out of over 11,000 applications, state, territorial and agency review panels each selected two nominees. A total of 114 nominees then participated in June 1985 in a week-long conference on various aspects of space education in Washington, DC. Ten teachers were selected through a national review process to continue on to the next step.

306-PSF-85-2488c: Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a 36 year old mother of two was chosen from a field of some 10,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. A Social Studies Instructor at Concord High School in New Hampshire, she flew aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986. Behind her, in the airplane, are some of the 10 finalists who joined her in testing for the assignment. The teacher-in-space program resulted from a campaign pledge made by President Ronald Reagan during the election campaign of 1984.

In July 1985, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the ten finalists participated in thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flights. A NASA evaluation committee made up of senior NASA officials conducted further interviews with each teacher. This committee then made recommendations to the NASA Administrator, who made the final selection of two teachers.

The primary participant was Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. Years earlier, McAuliffe had been excited about the Apollo moon landing program. In her astronaut application she wrote, “I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.” The back-up was Barbara Morgan, a teacher from McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.

Video footage documented McAuliffe and Morgan’s training at the Johnson Space Center. The Teacher in Space Project required that two classroom lessons be taught in space, and preparing the lesson plans also was documented. Finding aids for the records provide detailed descriptions of the film clips and are available in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Research Room at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

255 STS-13778 (Teacher Training: Meeting) 

255-STS-113910 (Teacher Training: Space Station Briefing)

The seven-member crew of the Challenger Shuttle was surprisingly diverse. They were American men and women of Asian, African, and European ancestry from across the United States, including Hawaii.

306-PSF-86-208c: Crewmembers. Standing L-R: Ellison S. Onizuka, S. Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith A. Resnick. Sitting L-R: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee, Ronald E. McNair

Photographs available in the Still Picture Research Room include images of the individual crew members, the shuttle craft, the explosion during the launch on January 28, 1986, the recovery mission, and the members of The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Archives expects to receive many more records from NASA in the near future. Click through the slideshow for more information about the photographs.

While the Teacher in Space Project ended following the Challenger Shuttle accident, NASA’s work with teachers has continued through its Educator Astronaut Project. The main difference is that teachers selected for the Educator Astronaut Project are required to leave their teaching careers and are trained to serve as part of NASA’s Astronaut corps. With their classroom experience, these educator astronauts explore new ways to connect space programs with classrooms.

On August 8, 2007, Barbara Morgan, who was the backup teacher for the Challenger Shuttle mission, became NASA’s first Educator Astronaut. She was assigned to the crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Challenger crew’s spirit of adventure and love of exploration and learning clearly lives on.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds millions of photographs, motion pictures, audio-visuals, and cartographic records–special media–created by federal government agencies. The majority of the special media are preserved and made available at Archives II, the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland. Some of these holdings are also available online at and

Federal government agencies send their permanently valuable records to NARA after an agreed-upon time so they may be preserved and made available to the public. Special media records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger can be found in the records of:

  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA (Record Group 255)
  • The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, 1986 (Record Group 220)
  • The United States Information Agency, USIA (Record Group 306)
  • The Office of the Secretary of Defence, 1921-2008 (Record Group 330)

For textual records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger, check and National Archives facilities in College Park, MD, Philadelphia, PA, Atlanta, GA and Fort Worth, TX, as well as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Many thanks to volunteers Harry Kidd who scanned records for this post, and Jan Hodges and Jim Tomney who described them for the online Catalog.  Much appreciation to Special Media staff Billy Wade, Carol Swain, and Audrey Amidon.


Additional Resources:

Bios of the Challenger crew

Challenger STS 51-L Accident

The families of the Space Shuttle Challenger created the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to continue the crew’s educational mission.

Information about NASA’s Educator Astronaut Program

This is not a NASA affiliated site, but covers the agency and related areas of space flight. is dedicated to expanding the public’s awareness and respect for the space flight industry.

Vice President George Bush announces Christa McAuliffe as the winner of the Teacher in Space project, July 19, 1985.

Information about the United States Rocket Academy’s Teachers in Space program that expanded to become the Citizens in Space program.

One thought on “The Challenger’s Teacher in Space Project: Photos and Video

  1. Very nice! I like the way you followed up the tragedy with the continuation of the program.


    On Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 5:13 PM, The Unwritten Record wrote:

    > janethodges2014 posted: “by Judy Luis-Watson, Manager of Volunteer and > Education Programs at the National Archives at College Park, MD The > inclusion of a teacher, who would become the first private citizen in > space, made the Space Shuttle Challenger mission especially exciting. ” >

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