Christa McAuliffe was a civilian teacher and payload specialist who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986. McAuliffe was selected for the position as part of NASA's Teacher in Space program and would have given video lessons from orbit. A faulty O-ring in one of the shuttle's solid rocket boosters failed shortly after liftoff, destroying the shuttle and killing its crew.
Before becoming an astronaut, McAuliffe had been a middle and high school teacher for 15 years. In order to inspire students to learn more about math and science, President Ronald Reagan initiated a program in 1984 that would select a teacher to fly into space on the shuttle. McAuliffe was selected and underwent astronaut training in 1985 for her flight.
On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, the extremely cold temperatures at the shuttle launch pad damaged the rubber O-rings that protected the solid rocket boosters during the flight. When the shuttle lifted off, hot gases were able to escape from the damaged joint in the rocket, burning through the external fuel tank and igniting the fuel within. The space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch, completely destroying the vehicle. There were no survivors.