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Congress Votes to Issue Coin for 'Teacher in Space' Christa McAuliffe

Unofficial, concept-only rendering of what a coin honoring Christa McAuliffe could look like. The Secretary of the U.S. Treasury will choose the design of the coin to be issued based on the direction of Congress and the work of U.S. Mint artists.
Unofficial, concept-only rendering of what a coin honoring Christa McAuliffe could look like. The Secretary of the U.S. Treasury will choose the design of the coin to be issued based on the direction of Congress and the work of U.S. Mint artists.
(Image: © FIRST/Jack Kamen/NASA via collectSPACE.com)

The United States Mint will memorialize the first teacher who launched toward space with a new coin that will help continue her mission of science and technology education.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act of 2019 on Thursday (Sept. 19), directing the Mint to produce a $1 silver coin honoring the fallen educator, who died alongside her six crewmates on board the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Approved by the Senate in July, the bill will now go to the White House for the president to sign into law.

"So proud that today the House passed my bill," said Representative Fred Upton, the Republican congressman from southwest Michigan who introduced the bill into the House in January. "I am looking forward to 2021 to getting my coin for sure."

Related: Challenger Disaster 30 Years Ago Shocked the World, Changed NASA

The act calls for the Mint to issue "not more than 350,000" of the $1 silver coins in 2021, recognizing the 35th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The 1.5-inch (3.8-centimeter) coin will feature an image and the name of Christa McAuliffe on the obverse, or heads side, and a design on the reverse "that depicts the legacy of Christa McAuliffe as a teacher."

The coin's final design will be decided by the Secretary of the Treasury after consulting with McAuliffe's family, the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

The U.S. Mint will sell the coins to the public at a price that will incorporate the face value of the coins ($1) and the cost of their design and issue, as well as a $10 surcharge per coin to benefit FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, an organization that uses robotics competitions to engage children in pursuing opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"As part of the FIRST community, we are inspired to advocate for wider recognition of our nation's STEM heroes," said Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, in a statement released by Upton's office. "This commemorative coin will honor Christa McAuliffe's legacy, not just by celebrating her life and service, but by designating additional funds to a program with a proven track record of inspiring young people to pursue science and technology."

"I am extremely grateful to everyone who helped pass this legislation and am excited that FIRST students will benefit as a result," said Kamen.

NASA portrait of "Teacher in Space" Christa McAuliffe.  (Image credit: NASA)

A social studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, McAuliffe was selected for NASA's "Teacher in Space" program from a nationwide pool of more than 11,000 applicants. She and her STS-51L crewmates — Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Elison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair and Greg Jarvis — were killed when a faulty rocket booster led to Challenger breaking apart 73 seconds after their liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

"They chose her to be the representative of the most important profession in our country, the teaching profession," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on the House floor on Thursday. "We can all be proud of the fact that we [will] memorialize an extraordinary fellow citizen, fellow human being, who brought her energy, her faith and her devotion to making her country, her community and our children better."

"Some of you may recall that Christa's motto as the Teacher in Space was 'I touch the future, I teach,' and she was looking forward with such excitement, not only to leave the bounds of Earth, but to return to Earth and engage with her students, to share her experience, to share the excitement and adventure of going into a new frontier that we call space," said Hoyer, who came to know McAuliffe by way of her husband serving as his law clerk in the late 1970s.

The Christa McAuliffe Commemorative Coin Act was first introduced by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in 2016 for the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. The bill was reintroduced by Upton in the House in 2017 prior to it ultimately attracting the needed number of cosponsors to pass this year. Congress is limited to enacting only two commemorative coin acts per year. 

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