A new commemorative coin program memorializing the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster has been proposed by United States Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. It would particularly highlight the legacy of Christa McAuliffe, a high school social studies teacher and mother of two who was chosen to join the expedition as the “first teacher in space.”
McAuliffe and six other astronauts were killed after the Challenger exploded shortly after launching from the coast of Florida on January 28, 1986. Due in part to the significant media attention attracted by McAuliffe’s participation in the mission, an unusual percentage of the American public witnessed the disaster in person or on television, contributing to the event’s traumatic impact.
If passed, the proposed legislation would allocate proceeds from surcharges to FIRST programs “that engage and inspire young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM),” according to a press release.
Senator Ayotte (R) explained that, “By encouraging young people to take an interest in science and technology and allowing them exciting opportunities to become more involved in these important fields, FIRST will serve as a natural recipient of the funds that will be generated through the sale of the Christa McAuliffe commemorative coins.”
Senator Shaheen (D) said of McAuliffe, “She was a beloved teacher who opened the eyes of young people around the world to the wonders of our planet and universe. In the 30 years since the Challenger tragedy, her memory has been honored from Concord to the halls of Congress and beyond. Engraving her image on a coin and using the proceeds to encourage young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math through FIRST Robotics is a fitting tribute.”
Christa McAuliffe has had dozens of schools and scholarships named after her, and she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, along with 13 other astronauts who lost their lives aboard the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles.