Blogs  |  3.8.2021

Women’s History Month: Remembering Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe

Since 1980, communities and organizations around the United States have celebrated Women’s History Month every March. The celebration recognizes women’s achievements and contributions to American history. At Challenger Center, the legacies of the two female Challenger crew members, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe, motivate us every day to inspire the next generation of innovators and leaders through exciting STEM programs.

Both Resnik and McAuliffe played integral parts in America’s space exploration and educational history, and continue to hold a special place in Americans hearts.

Judith A. Resnik, Challenger Mission Specialist

Born on April 5, 1949 in Akron, Ohio, Judith Resnik, was the second American female astronaut in space, following 1978 classmate Sally Ride, during the maiden flight of Discovery, STS-41D, between August 30 and September 5, 1984. Resnik was a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a B.S. in electrical engineering in 1970, and the University of Maryland, where she received a Ph.D. in the same field in 1977. While working on Discovery, she logged 145 hours in space and helped deploy three satellites and remove ice particles from the orbiter.

Known for her brilliance from a young age, Resnik was a gifted engineer, a beloved daughter, sister, and friend. She was also a pilot, a piano player, one of only 16 women at the time to record a perfect score on the SAT, and a gourmet cook. Discovery crew member Mike Mullane wrote of Resnik, “I was also happy to be crewed with Judy… She was smart, hardworking, and dependable, all the things you would want in a fellow crew member.”

In addition to her legacy continued by Challenger Center, Resnik received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously in 2004, had a lunar crater named after her as well as an engineering lecture hall at the University of Maryland. The Society of Women Engineers’ annual award, the Resnik Challenger Medal, goes to a woman who changed the space industry as voted on by her peers.

Learn more about Judy in this touching essay written by her niece, Jenna Resnik.


Christa McAuliffe, Teacher-in-Space Payload Specialist

Sharon Christa McAuliffe, was selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks, to become the first teacher to fly in space. McAuliffe had been born on September 2, 1948 and attended Framingham State College in her hometown, graduating in 1970.

McAuliffe was a beloved teacher with great interest in space. As a youth she registered excitement over the Apollo moon landing program, and wrote years later on her astronaut application form that “I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.”

McAuliffe took a teaching post at Concord High School in 1982, and in 1984 learned about NASA’s efforts to locate an educator to fly on the Shuttle. The intent was to find a gifted teacher who could communicate with students from space.

NASA selected McAuliffe for this position in the summer of 1984 and in the fall she took a year-long leave of absence from teaching, during which time NASA would pay her salary, and trained for an early 1986 Shuttle mission. She had an immediate rapport with the media, and the teacher in space program received tremendous popular attention as a result. It is in part because of the excitement over McAuliffe’s presence on the Challenger that the accident had such a significant impact on the nation.

McAuliffe’s legacy lives on through Challenger Center, the McAuliffe Center at Framingham State University (now home to a Challenger Learning Center), and in the lives of all of her students, children, family, and friends. An asteroid, lunar crater, crater on Venus, and more than 40 schools around the world are named after McAuliffe. She was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously in 2004.

Challenger Center, in partnership with NASA and STEM on Station, worked to complete several of the lessons Christa McAuliffe had planned for the Challenger STS 51L Teacher in Space mission. Watch the lessons and the several videos of Christa recorded pre-launch here.