US Mint marks 35 years since Challenger with 'Teacher in Space' coin

Orders for the 2021 Christa McAuliffe Silver Dollar Commemorative Coin begin Jan. 28, 2021, on the 35th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, via the U.S. Mint website. (Image credit: U.S. Mint)

A new U.S. coin honoring Christa McAuliffe, NASA's first "Teacher in Space," will help continue her educational mission 35 years after she and her six astronaut crewmates were tragically lost in flight.

The United States Mint will begin accepting orders for the 2021 Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Silver Dollar at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) on Wednesday (Jan. 28), the 35th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy.

The first U.S. coin to honor a teacher, the McAuliffe dollar is being offered by the Mint in uncirculated and proof finishes for $69 and $74 each, respectively, and is limited to 350,000 pieces. The coins are expected to begin shipping on March 17.

Related: Lessons from Challenger shuttle accident echo at NASA 35 years on

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A $10 surcharge from the sale of each coin will go to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a not-for-profit student engagement program that shares McAuliffe's goal of inspiring the next generation of scientists, innovators and explorers.

"Thirty-five years ago, the world watched as tragedy unfolded in the skies over Florida," David Ryder, director of the U.S. Mint, said while helping to unveil the McAuliffe dollar's design in December. "As the first participant in NASA's Teacher in Space program, Christa embodied the dreams of many who wish to reach for the stars."

McAuliffe was teaching high school social studies in Concord, New Hampshire when she was selected through a nationwide search to be the first teacher to fly into space. She and her STS-51L crewmates were tragically killed when a faulty rocket booster led to the space shuttle Challenger breaking apart 73 seconds into its launch on Jan. 28, 1986.

Related: Christa McAuliffe and Challenger Remembered in Photos

Teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe trains on a weightless parabolic flight prior to the space shuttle Challenger's ill-fated STS-51L mission in 1986. CREDIT: NASA (Image credit: NASA)

McAuliffe's crewmates included commander Francis "Dick" Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik and Ronald McNair and payload specialist Gregory Jarvis.

The seven STS-51L astronauts are represented on the new silver dollar as seven stars on the reverse, or tail's side, of the coin.

Both sides of the commemorative depict McAuliffe: in profile on the obverse (or head's side) based on a NASA photograph taken while she was training for the ill-fated mission, and in the classroom with her motto, "I touch the future. I teach," on the obverse. The FIRST logo also appears on the coin.

Infographic: The Challenger shuttle disaster: What happened?

"I am particularly appreciative that the Mint included the [six] stars for Christa's crewmates," said Steven McAuliffe, a U.S. District Court judge in New Hampshire and Christa's widower. "I know she would be very happy about that as well."

Authorized by Congress in 2019, the Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Silver Dollar was designed by Laurie Musser, a member of the Mint's Artistic Infusion Program, and sculpted by medallic artist Phebe Hemphill.

Both the uncirculated and proof editions of the coin were struck at the U.S. Mint's Philadelphia facility from 99.9 percent silver. Each coin comes with a certificate of authenticity issued by the Mint.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.