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Original NASA Photo Art "First Teacher in Space" From the Challenger Disaster

January 28, 1986


~ Teacher in Space Project ~

The Teacher in Space Project (TISP) was a NASA program announced by Ronald Reagan in 1984 designed to inspire students, honor teachers, and spur interest in mathematics, science, and space exploration. The project would carry teachers into space as Payload Specialists (non-astronaut civilians), who would return to their classrooms to share the experience with their students.

NASA cancelled the program in 1990, following the death of its first participant, Christa McAuliffe, in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (STS-51-L) on January 28, 1986. NASA replaced Teachers in Space in 1998 with the Educator Astronaut Project, which required its participants to become astronaut Mission Specialists. The first Educator Astronauts were selected as part of NASA Astronaut Group 19 in 2004.


Barbara Morgan, who was selected as a Mission Specialist as part of NASA Astronaut Group 17 in 1998, has often been incorrectly referred to as an Educator Astronaut. However, she was selected as a Mission Specialist before the Educator Astronaut Project.


TISP was announced by President Ronald Reagan on August 27, 1984. Not members of NASA's Astronaut Corps, the teachers would fly as Payload Specialists and return to their classrooms after flight. More than 40,000 applications were mailed to interested teachers while 11,000 teachers sent completed applications to NASA. Each application included a potential lesson that would be taught from space while on the Space Shuttle. The applications were sorted and then sent to the various State Departments of Education, who were then responsible for narrowing down their state applicants to a final set of two each. These 114 applicants were notified of their selections and were gathered together for further selection processes down to ten finalists. These were then trained for a time, and in 1985 NASA selected Christa McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space, with Barbara Morgan as her backup. McAuliffe was a high school social studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire. She planned to teach two 15-minute lessons from the Space Shuttle.


McAuliffe died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (STS-51-L) on January 28, 1986. After the accident, Reagan spoke on national television and assured the nation that the Teacher in Space program would continue. "We'll continue our quest in space", he said. "There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue." However, NASA decided in 1990 that spaceflight was still too dangerous to risk the lives of civilian teachers, and eliminated the Teacher in Space project. Morgan returned to teaching in Idaho and later became a Mission Specialist on STS-118.


~ The Challenger Disaster ~

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was a fatal accident in the United States space program that occurred on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard; i