Publish Date: Feb. 10, 1986
How TIME Covered the News: The launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger was screened live by millions of Americans, as space travel was attempted by a non-astronaut for the very first time. Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher, was aboard the craft as it took flight with plans to orbit the Earth and launch a new satellite. But 73 seconds after liftoff, the unthinkable happened: the $1.2 billion craft exploded over the Atlantic, killing all seven crew members onboard.
“Americans had soared into space 55 times over 25 years, and their safe return came to be taken for granted. An age when most anyone, given a few months’ training, could go along for a safe ride seemed imminent. Christa McAuliffe was the pioneer and the vibrant symbol of this amazing new era of space for Everyman. An ebullient high school social-studies teacher from Concord, N.H., she was to be the first ordinary citizen to be shot into space, charged with showing millions of watchful schoolchildren how wonderful it could be. She was bringing every American who had ever been taught by a Mrs. McAuliffe into this new era with her. It was an era that lasted only 73 seconds.”