One Year: 1986

Season 3: Episode 2

The Ultimate Field Trip

They competed for a spot on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Then they watched it explode.


Episode Notes

This week, Evan Chung tells the story of the American teachers who competed for an unprecedented prize: a spot on the January 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Three of the finalists describe the grueling selection process and the tragedy that killed one of their own.

One Year is produced by Evan Chung, Sophie Summergrad, Sam Kim, Madeline Ducharme, and Josh Levin.

Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts and Merritt Jacob is senior technical director.

Sources for This Episode


Cook, Kevin. The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA’s Challenger Disaster, Henry Holt and Company, 2021.

Hohler, Robert T. I Touch the Future: The Story of Christa McAuliffe, Random House, 1986.


10 Teachers Make Grade as Finalists for Shuttle,” Associated Press, July 1, 1985.

114 Teachers Cram for Chance to Join January Shuttle Flight,” Associated Press, June 24, 1985.

“2 Maryland teachers vie for space ride,” Associated Press, April 23, 1985.

35 Years Ago: Remembering Challenger and Her Crew,” NASA, Jan. 28, 2021.

A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” National Commission on Excellence in Education, April 1983.

Blais, Richard. “The Phone, Doorbell Never Stopped Ringing,” Concord Monitor, July 20, 1985.

Eig, Jonathan. “Teacher picked for ‘Ultimate Field Trip,’ ” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1985.

Hohler, Bob. “McAuliffe Knew After Two Words,” Concord Monitor, July 20, 1985.

Investigation of the Challenger Accident,” House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, Oct. 29, 1986.

Margolis, John, Lea Donosky, and James O’Shea. “​​ `It Feels Like Tragedy Was Always Part of it,` ” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 9, 1986.

STS-51L Mission Profile,” NASA, Dec. 5, 2005.

New Shuttle Is Readied for Launching Pad,” New York Times, June 28, 1988.

Norberg, John. “Teacher in Space Finalist,” Journal and Courier, Jan. 28, 1996.

Schmidt, William E. “The Shuttle Explosion; For the Families, the Moment of Doom,” New York Times, Jan. 29, 1986.

“Teacher in space competition heats up,” Associated Press, June 26, 1985.

Weinraub, Bernard. “Reagan Pays Tribute to ‘Our Challenger Heroes,’ ” New York Times, Feb. 1, 1986.

Wiseman, Paul. “John Denver may write song on teachers trying for space,” Journal and Courier, July 14, 1985.

“Worker at space center dies after fall into ride,” Birmingham Post-Herald, July 15, 1985.

Workman, Karen. “The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster, 30 Years Later,” New York Times, Jan. 28, 2016.


About the Show

The people and struggles that changed America—one year at a time. In each episode, host Josh Levin explores a story you may have forgotten, or one you’ve never heard of before. What were the moments that transformed politics, culture, science, religion, and more? And how does the nation’s past shape our present?

The third season of One Year covers 1986, a year when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, the mystery of Al Capone’s vaults got solved, and a sea lion named Herschel caused chaos in Seattle.

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