The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

by Wendy Thowdis

Essential Question        

  • What lessons have been learned about space travel from the Challenger incident?
  • What makes someone a hero?



Have students read the two documents: “The Shuttle Explodes” and Ronald Reagan’s speech on the Challenger Disaster. Discuss the two points of view portrayeda newspaper and a presidential speechand have students note the differences in how the event was portrayed by each. What was the intended purpose of each of these documents?

Have students write a speech or newspaper article discussing a tragedy/disaster that has occurred in their lifetime and/or in their community. Make sure they address their proper audience and make the intended purpose of their writing evident to this audience.

Research the origins of the space shuttle program, focusing on how it has been both a benefit and liability to our society. Have the students read the article “Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?” and write a position paper on whether or not the shuttle program was more of a success or failure.

Debate: Should the space program continue to be funded by Congress? Have the students read the excerpt from President Obama’s speech on space exploration goals and promises to become aware of the most recent plan for our national government to continue to explore space.

Have students view the National Geographic Challenger Disaster photographs and use the National Archives Photo Analysis Worksheet to explore the meaning and importance of these historic photographs. For each photo, have the students write two captions, one which conveys the meaning or importance of the photo for those viewing it in 1986 and one caption to help people remember the tragedy today.

The astronauts aboard the Challenger were memorialized as heroes after the shuttle disaster in 1986, especially Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to go up into space. Discuss: What makes someone a hero? Were the astronauts heroes? Why or why not?

Have students build a model of the Challenger and create a scale drawing that could allow others to build an accurate model.

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