The space shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The seven crew members perished in the explosion. One of the shuttle’s booster rockets, whose faulty O-rings were blamed for the disaster, shoots off to the right. Associated Press file

We tend to remember exactly where we were when tragic events occur.

It was 37 years ago on Jan. 28, 1986, that the space shuttle Challenger exploded as we watched the takeoff on national television.

I was living in Amherst, Massachusetts, and watching the launch before heading out the door to go to the University of Massachusetts School of Education. I already had my bachelor’s degree in English and it was my first day of a yearlong post-graduate program of study to become a high school English teacher.

I stood there in my winter coat, staring at the TV when, 73 seconds into takeoff, the space shuttle exploded over Cape Canaveral in Florida.

CBS news anchor Dan Rather cut in, trying to piece together for viewers what had happened.

S. Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, was aboard that shuttle and she and six others died.


McAuliffe, 37, was the first private citizen to be part of a space mission and had been chosen from thousands of teachers around the country to apply. She had trained for the mission, planned to teach some classes from space and travel the country afterward, talking to students about her experience.

A clipping from the Morning Sentinel the day after the space shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. Morning Sentinel archive

She was a dedicated teacher, which I had hoped to become one day. After receiving certification to teach secondary English in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a year later, however, I changed my mind and became a journalist.

I’ll never forget the aftermath of the shuttle disaster, entering my first class at UMass and informing my fellow classmates, who I was meeting for the first time, what I had just seen on television. They had not been aware. We were all in shock.

Fourteen years later, in 2000, I met McAuliffe’s mother, Grace Corrigan, in of all places, Canaan, Maine.

She was carrying on her daughter’s plan to travel the country teaching children the importance of education and was a guest at the Lindbergh Crate Museum’s annual Crate Day Celebration. The museum was created by Larry Ross, also a dedicated teacher, who was fascinated by people in history who had pursued their dreams and reached their goals. He taught his students that they can be anything they aspire to if they work hard toward it.

Ross had purchased a large crate that carried Charles Lindbergh’s plane, Spirit of St. Louis, back to the U.S. from France after he made his historic, solo, transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927, the first person ever to do so. Ross purchased the crate in 1990 from a man in Contoocook, New Hampshire, had it hauled to his home on a sunny hillside off Easy Street in Canaan, and launched the museum.


It was always a fun event to cover Lindbergh Crate Day for the newspaper. The year Corrigan, McAuliffe’s mother, was there, there were flyovers of F-16s and DC-3s, as well as skydivers and the landing of a Maine Army National Guard helicopter.

Corrigan told me she was honored to have been invited and thought what Ross was doing was “fabulous.”

“It’s the same kind of mission Christa was on,” she said.

The gravesite for Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire educator who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, is in Calvary Cemetery in Concord. Saturday marks the 37th anniversary of the tragedy. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Wheeler

None of us would know then that a year later, on Sept. 11, 2001, we would again be watching another tragic explosion, live on national TV, as planes hit the twin towers in New York City. I was in the newsroom with my colleagues, watching the events unfold.

I spoke this week with my longtime friend, Kimberly Wheeler, of Concord, New Hampshire, about McAuliffe, who taught at Concord High School, Wheeler’s alma mater. While she didn’t know McAuliffe, she lived three blocks from her house and McAuliffe’s grave in Calvary Cemetery in Concord is near Wheeler’s parents’ graves.

A retired educator herself, Wheeler recalled that the city of Concord was all abuzz when McAuliffe was chosen to travel in space, and residents were so proud of her. The city remains devastated by the tragedy, 37 years later.

“She was an awesome teacher at Concord High School and everybody loved her,” she said.

Corrigan died in 2018 at 94. The Lindbergh Crate Museum was moved in 2020 to the Wreaths Across America Museum in Columbia Falls. Time marches on.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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