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Woman, 36, to Be First Private Citizen in Space : Teacher Picked for ‘Ultimate Field Trip’

Times Staff Writer

A New Hampshire high school teacher, calling her planned flight aboard a January space shuttle mission “the ultimate field trip,” was chosen Friday from more than 11,000 applicants to become the first private citizen passenger in space.

The selection of Sharon Christa McAuliffe, 36, a social studies instructor at Concord High School in Concord, N. H., from among 10 finalists was announced by Vice President George Bush in a White House ceremony. Barbara R. Morgan, an elementary school teacher from McCall, Ida., was chosen as backup.

McAuliffe’s selection was the result of President Reagan’s announcement last August that a schoolteacher would be the first private citizen to fly in space. The government received 11,416 applications from teachers.

To Keep Journal

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McAuliffe said in her application to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that she hopes to “humanize the technology of the Space Age” by keeping a journal of her experience and bringing the details home to both children and adults.

“I cannot join the space program and restart my life as an astronaut, but this opportunity to connect my abilities as an educator with my interests in history and space is a unique opportunity to fulfill my early fantasies,” she wrote in the application.

McAuliffe is scheduled to be aboard a Jan. 22 flight of the shuttle Challenger, accompanying five astronauts. And she said the nine other finalists will help her develop plans for her part of the shuttle mission.

“I’ve made nine wonderful friends over the last two weeks,” she said, crying after Bush’s announcement, “and, when that shuttle goes up, there might be one body but there’s going to be 10 souls that I’m taking with me.”

Bush said that McAuliffe would be “the first private citizen passenger in the history of space flight.” NASA’s new link with the teaching profession provides for “an exciting partnership for quality in education,” he added.

Lauds Teachers

In lauding “thousands of teachers with the right stuff,” Bush said that a comprehensive program will be developed to make McAuliffe’s flight an education for students and teachers nationwide. Televised lessons will be broadcast from the shuttle to classrooms across the country, he said.

“I am confident that, when the shuttle lifts off, (McAuliffe) will soar with it--right into the hearts and minds of young people and their teachers . . . " NASA Administrator James M. Beggs said.

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Thus, the flight, in addition to promoting the space program, should give the teaching profession a boost, he noted. “We hope to help restore prestige to the noble profession of teaching, something it has sadly lacked in our nation in recent years,” he said.

Attention ‘Wonderful’

The attention that the selection process already has focused on teachers has been “wonderful” for the profession, McAuliffe noted in a televised interview from the White House. “I really hope there will be more people going into the teaching profession,” she said. “Somebody likened (the shuttle mission) to the ultimate field trip.”

McAuliffe, who has a special interest in history and women’s issues, received a bachelor of arts degree from Framingham State College in Framingham, Mass., and a master’s in education from Bowie State College in Bowie, Md. She has been teaching for 12 years and developed her own course--"The American Woman"--at Concord High School.

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She lives in Concord with her husband, an attorney, and their two children and is a Girl Scout leader and a volunteer at a family planning clinic.

Plans Speaking Tours

McAuliffe said that she will return to the school after her flight and plans to go on speaking tours to promote interest in teaching and the space program.

The students at her school are excited about the trip, she said: “They see this as a really neat thing I’m doing.”

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