As It Happens

Former student remembers her teacher turned Challenger astronaut, Christa McAuliffe

Thirty years after the space shuttle challenger exploded killing all seven crew, Kristin Jacques remembers her New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe.
This undated file photo provided by NASA shows New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe was aboard Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986, when the vehicle exploded shortly after liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center. All seven members of the crew on board perished. (NASA/AP)
Listen6:56

She was on her way to becoming the first teacher in space.

But, 30 years ago Thursday, Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts died when the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

At the time, Kristin Jacques was one of McAuliffe's students at Concord High School. She remembers gathering with her fellow students to watch the launch.

"We did the countdown with the announcer at NASA and just cheered at the lift-off," Jacques recalls. "We actually continued cheering even after the explosion — we didn't realize what had happened."

"There were hundreds of kids in there and it just fell dead silent."

In this Jan. 28, 1986 picture, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. shortly before it exploded with a crew of seven aboard. (Thom Baur/AP)

From our archives, the audio clip below is what As It Happens listeners heard on the day of the disaster, Jan. 28 1986

Former As It Happens host Al Maitland narrated sounds from the day of the launch, followed by host Dennis Trudeau, speaking with a bystander moments after she witnessed the disaster.

From our archives, As It Happens interviews a bystander moments after she witnessed the Challenger disaster. 6:36
In this Jan. 28, 1986 file picture, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. react after they witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. (AP)

Christa McAuliffe beat out more than 11,000 other applicants to be chosen to become the first teacher in space.

Former student Jacques says, "The idea of sending lessons down to earth from space intrigued her and probably exhilarated her — it was another level she could just give back for students."

This photo provided by NASA shows the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission 51L. All seven members of the crew were killed when the shuttle exploded during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Front row from left are Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, and Ronald E. McNair. Front row from left are Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (NASA/AP)

Jacques remembers her former teacher as a "happy-go-lucky person." 

"People were drawn to her because of that," Jacques says. "She did a really impressive job of bringing reluctant people out of their shells and getting them involved in lessons."

Kristin Jacques was one of Christa McAuliffe's students at Concord High School. (Kristin Jacques )

Now, thirty years later, Jacques has followed McAuliffe's footsteps. She too is a teacher. Jacques works at an elementary school in New Hampshire. She tries to pass on the lessons she learned from McAuliffe. 

"I talk to [students] about the goal setting that she used in her life to achieve things," she says. "They can do anything they want to do and be anything they want to be if they go after it."

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