Kennewick teacher applied for fatal Challenger mission

KENNEWICK -- Kathy Killand, a teacher at Canyon View Elementary in Kennewick, remembers exactly what she was doing 25 years ago today.

She had turned on the TV for her fifth-grade class at Canyon View so her excited students could see the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Instead, they watched the horrifying explosion of the Challenger that killed everyone on board, including Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the nation's first teacher in space.

Killand remembers her whole body going numb, as a cold realization came over her.

"Hey, that could have been me," she thought.

A year earlier, she had applied to be the first teacher in space in a NASA program announced by President Reagan.

The teacher selected was expected to train with NASA and then teach lessons to school children from space during the shuttle journey. But that was just the beginning of the assignment, with a tour of the nation planned to talk to school children.

"I thought it would be really cool," Killand said.

About 11,000 teachers applied, and Killand was notified that she made the first cut.

But then she discovered she was pregnant with her second child.

The baby was due within a month of when the teacher selected was expected to report for training.

She withdrew her name, but she still talked about the opportunity with her class that later gathered 25 years ago to watch the shuttle launch.

She also has talked about it with her classes since. Most recently, it came up as her fifth graders were studying a nonfiction reading unit called "The Universe."

"I once applied to be the first teacher in space," she told her class.

She cites her experience as an example of the many things students can do with their lives, including becoming an astronaut.

A trip to space isn't likely for her now, she said, but in the unlikely event she had a chance to do it, she still would go for it.

Many years have passed during which advances in space travel have been made, and she particularly would like the chance to tour the nation, talking to students about space, she said.