Ed and Grace Corrigan met at Crosby High School in Waterbury Ct in 1940. In 1946 they were married just as Ed was entering Boston College. They agreed that children would have to wait, but love changed that as Ed was entering his sophomore year. On Sept 2, 1948 – their first child was born. They baptized her Sharon Christa Corrigan, and called her Christa. When she was only 6 months old, Christa contracted a severe illness that hospitalized her for 28 days. She recovered, but hospital and medical bills took the family’s savings. Boston Mayor Michael J Curley, a legendary benefactor of the poor, came to the rescue with a cold-water flat for $23. a month. It wasn’t much, but it was a home and that’s where Christa began to grow into a gifted child, bright and inquisitive.
The family’s lean years ended with Ed’s graduation, and they moved to Waterbury where he became an accountant. They placed little Christa in modeling school, and she earned an appearance on a local TV fashion show at the age of 4. A year later, Ed took a job at Jordan Marsh in Boston, and the family moved to Framingham, where little Christa won the title of Summer Princess at the local playground. It was becoming clear that this little girl was someone special. She became a Brownie; a Girl Scout; took dance, voice, and piano lessons; religious classes, and sports practice, cramming the most she could into every minute of the day.
Then in May, 1961, Christa watched, with her schoolmates, as Alan Shepard, aboard a Redstone Rocket, took America’s first trip into space. She told a classmate that one day she too would go into space, but in the 1960’s that was only wishful thinking, and she knew it; in those days women were nurses, secretaries, or teachers, so she pursued a career as a teacher. At High School, Christa met Steve McAuliffe, and from that day, dated no one else. To say that she was an active teenager is an understatement. She earned National Honor Society recognition, and entered Framingham State College, all the while working nights in a local shipping company, baby sitting, captaining the college debating team, singing with the glee club, and acting in school plays; yet still made the Dean’s list 3 times. Eight weeks after graduation, she and Steve were married at St Jeremiah’s.
Steve and Christa moved to Washington where Steve attended Georgetown Law School and Christa worked as a teacher. Just like Ed and Grace Corrigan, they had to cut corners until Steve’s graduation, after which they returned north to Concord, New Hampshire where Christa got a job teaching at Concord High School. In typical fashion, she also led a Girl Scout troop, taught Catechism at St Peters, worked hospital and YWCA fund-raising campaigns, and appeared in community theater productions. In her leisure time she joined a volleyball league, a tennis team, and jogged. She was still cramming as much as she could into every minute of the day. There was just no time for added activities – until that August day in 1984.
On that fateful day, Steve and Christa were driving home when they heard a news item from the White House on the car radio. Today, the President said, I am directing NASA to begin a search of our elementary and secondary schools to choose, as the first citizen passenger in the history of our space program, one of America’s finest – a teacher. Christa felt her stomach tingle; she looked at Steve and, knowing the dynamic lady he had married, Steve just smiled and said, Go for it.
Christa Corrigan McAuliffe applied to NASA for the position of first civilian in space, and she wasn’t disheartened to learn that over 11,500 others had applied with her. With her customary determination she persevered; this was what her whole life had prepared her for – she had lived life to its fullest, and this was the leading edge. Through interviews, examinations, and training, the process of elimination gradually reduced the number of applicants to 113, and Christa was still in the running. She was elated, and felt that whoever the lucky passenger would be, she was honored just to have come this close. But she came even closer, as her parents knew she would, for when they number of finalists had been reduced to 10, Christa was one of them.
Then, on July 19, 1985, Vice President Bush announced that Christa McAuliffe would be America’s first civilian in space. Among the runners-up were some with better credentials in certain fields, but Christa was judged the best all around. She was the girl next door, and it was felt that there was no better person to relate the adventure of space to the average American than she.
On the sunny morning of January 28, 1986, forty years after their marriage, Ed and Grace Corrigan stood in a crowd of dignitaries, watching the space shuttle, Challenger, lift off. It was carrying their beautiful Christa, and her companions, across the morning sky on a column of flame, headed for the reaches of outer space. The pride in their eyes was so visible that media personnel trained their cameras on them to record their reaction. What they recorded was seen, and will never be forgotten, by almost every man, woman, and child on this planet.
The pride became shock, and turned to grief as the shuttle became a ball of flame, and turned into a sky full of twisted falling metal. In the blink of an eye, baby Christa, the summer princess of the Framingham playground, was gone; the teenager who wanted to fly to the moon was no more. School children wept openly at the loss of their favorite teacher, and millions recoiled in horror at the tragic turn of events.
From our poor vantage point on the clay of this earth, we felt Ed and Grace Corrigan’s pain. But what of Christa. According to NASA, the crew felt no panic nor pain. They had been vaporized in an instant, so what of Christa? Well, think of it. Christa had lived life to its fullest, never wasting a precious moment; and she was experiencing her fondest dream. How often have we said, if this be a dream don’t wake me, knowing that anything after would be a letdown. Christa McAuliffe never knew that letdown. She was in the middle of living her dream, she was at the peak of her emotions as she buckled into Challenger for the flight into space. Can you imagine her excitement as the giant shuttle lifted off into the heavens. And what better end could her dream have had, for within moments of liftoff, Christa McAuliffe reached out and touched the welcoming hand of God.