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Planetarium Opens With Fanfare and Tribute To McAuliffe

June 22, 1990

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ The Christa McAuliffe Planetarium was dedicated Thursday as a memorial to the teacher-astronaut killed in the Challenger disaster and a way to honor her passion for motivating children to learn.

″This planetarium is more than a memorial to Christa McAuliffe ... it is more than a planetarium. It is a promise to continue the work she believed in and a promise to fulfill her dream,″ said NASA Administrator Richard Truly.

About 1,500 people, including some of McAuliffe’s former students and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, attended the opening ceremony.

The $2.6 million planetarium is New Hampshire’s official memorial to the 37-year-old Concord High School teacher, who died with six other astronauts when the space shuttle exploded in January 1986.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had selected McAuliffe as its first citizen in space from among 11,000 teachers who applied for the spot.

″Christa was selected because she was an extraordinary role model as a teacher and an extraordinary role model as a person,″ her widower, Steven, said Thursday.

He said his wife’s goal was to excite and motivate children to learn and that she saw her shuttle mission as a way to ″honorably and credibly represent classroom teachers and the debt and respect that we owe to them.″

McAuliffe and other speakers said the planetarium has accomplished those goals.

At a news conference before the dedication, Truly said he’d like to see ordinary citizens return to space, but made no promises because of the backlog of missions caused by the Challenger disaster.

Truly, who flew on two shuttle missions, said the experience of spaceflight ″is deserving to be shared with people who are not just like me.″

″Right now we’ve got a series of important, precious, national missions to get off, and we’ve got our hands full, so I’m going to put that (decision) off a little bit,″ he said. He has made similar statements before.

The planetarium resulted from ″the fierce pride and love of people who cared about someone and who cared about what Christa cared about,″ said Sununu, who was New Hampshire’s governor when the Challenger exploded.

Most of the funding for the planetarium came from the state, but there were private donations as well, including money raised by schoolchildren across New Hampshire.

The planetarium, which took 18 months to build, features an interactive system that allows the audience to select by an electronic majority vote where they want to travel in the universe. It also will allow journeys into mathematics, geology, meteorology, art, the history of music or the demise of the dinosaurs.

A special commission chose the planetarium from scores of suggestions for memorials to McAuliffe, including a portrait, a state holiday or a brightly lit statue atop Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak.

Louise Wiley of Pittsfield suggested the planetarium.

She said Thursday she had envisioned a smaller planetarium in a high school that students would run. ″Never in a million years did I think it would end up like this,″ she said.

″It is a dream. We had tears in our eyes watching it.″

McAuliffe’s mother, Grace Corrigan, looked on with pride.

″I’m very happy and very proud to think that something so disastrous is culminating in something so wonderful,″ she said.

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