Lively Lessons: Remembering Space Shuttle Challenger

This month, we celebrate the tremendous work of change makers throughout history, including exploring what inspires change makers, honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and speaking with students who are making a difference in the world today.  

In this week’s Lively Lesson, we remember the crews of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the tragedy that occurred thirty years ago this week by asking students to explore the impact that event had on people around the world and on space exploration.


Space Shuttle Challenger first left Earth on April 4, 1983. During its three years of service, Challenger completed nine missions, hosted the first untethered spacewalk, and ushered the first American woman and African-American into space.

On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was to be the first American civilian in space.

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Explore the Discovery Education Space Shuttle Challenger content collection for selected grade-appropriate resources, including lesson starters, video segments, and images, like those suggested below.

Grades 3-5

After learning about the Challenger disaster using resources from the Space Shuttle Challenger content collection, tell students to prepare to interview an adult about their memory of the Challenger explosion. Advise students to write a set of five to ten interview questions about the Challenger disaster. For example:

  • How old were you when Challenger exploded?
  • Do you remember where you were when you heard about the Challenger disaster?
  • What were your feelings during and after the explosion?

After they have completed the interview, students write a short summary of the interviewee’s experience of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Grades 6-8

After viewing “Challenger Investigation” from WHEN WE LEFT EARTH: The NASA Missions: The Shuttle, ask each student to write one word on the board that relates to the program. Next, assess the collection of words as a class, discussing which words appear most often, as well as the definitions of any unknown words. Then, break the students into groups of two or three. Assign each group with the task of writing a poem that tells the story of the Challenger. Each group must use at least fifteen words from the list on the board. Once the poems have been drafted, ask each group to write their poem on a piece of poster paper. Each vocabulary word used in the poems should be underlined. Finally, set aside time for a poetry reading so each group can present their poem to the class.

Grades 9-12

After viewing “The Challenger Lift-off” and “Tragedy and Mourning” from CBS News: The 20th Century: Triumph and Tragedy in Space: Apollo 11 and the Challenger Disaster, break students into pairs to perform research about how the disaster was portrayed in the media. Students should find information from at least three primary sources. After giving students time to research the disaster, ask students to consider:

  • How did the media respond to the disaster in 1986?
  • If the disaster happened today, how would the media response be different?

Challenge each pair of students to create five ways in which the social media outlets of today (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc.) would have responded to the Challenger disaster. Each of the five social media responses should be accompanied by a paragraph-long description. Conclude the activity by having each group present their social media responses to the class.

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