There are a few live television moments that truly stick in the public memory long, long after the day they take place. One of those is the awful Challenger shuttle explosion due to both human and mechanical error. This documentary showcases the life of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher chosen from a National selection to join astronauts in space. It also touches on the legacy she left behind.

Christa talking about education on screen.

The disasters faced

The challenger shuttle explosion and the media outpouring that followed.

The story

Reach for the Stars is a 75 minute insight into Christa McAuliffe’s life. It takes you right from her childhood with her parents and siblings right through to meeting her husband Steve, becoming a mum and a passionate teacher. The documentary is primarily concerned with the role Christa played in the education sector and how her infectious personality and curiosity for life motivated others. Able to channel that enthusiasm easily in front of the cameras, she lives her philosophy in life – ‘get the most out of it’ and ‘to connect with people’. She does both superbly and thus it makes the sole civilian passenger lost on the Challenger all the more painful and infuriating. Whilst the documentary touches on the reasons why (NASA rushing a launch that should never have happened that day), it chooses not to dwell but it use the story as powerful momentum to spread the message of education and connection.

Plenty of training footage is expertly used as a background to the interviews.

Why is it worth watching?

As the Challenger disaster becomes more etched in history, Reach for the Stars reminds us of the human element in such a mission. Whilst, yes, Christa was one of seven who lost their lives, and yes, she knew the risks, there is a public guilt attached to the death it seems. After all, this was a giant publicity stunt to reengage the public with the space programme again.

It is heart-warming to hear anecdotes from her family, friends and pupils about how much of a compassionate and forward thinking powerhouse she was. It sounded like she was slightly before her time in many ways. Most emotional are the interviews with her mother. Both parents were watching on the ground in front of cameras when it all went wrong and you can see that glazed realisation taking over in real time. It must have been terrible to deal with. At the time of recording, Grace Corrigan, Christa’s mum, was touring schools teaching kids about the mission and having conversations about grief, emotions, reaching for dreams and believing in yourself. It is a courageous step and she passed away in 2018. The documentary doesn’t include her husband Steve who led a private life away from publicity after the disaster and later remarried.

As so much of the space journey was captured on film, there is a lot of training footage here that is fascinating to see. Included are interviews with Barbara Morgan who was Christa’s back up. She eventually went to space herself in 2007 not long after this was made. They seemed like best friends and work buddies on a massive journey together which makes it lovely and bittersweet to watch.

Christa’s parents seeing the disaster in real time is heart wrenching.

Favourite quote

Any dream can come true if you have the courage to work at it.

A quote that has been used on a painting of Christa

Three memorable moments

  • Hearing Christa talk about her philosophy for life is genuinely inspiring.
  • Seeing Grace talking to children about the disaster in classrooms is heartfelt.
  • The use of Carly Simon’s music, which was the cassette Christa took with her on the mission.
Happy times with Christa and Steve.


For those wanting to dig into the person that was Christa McAuliffe rather than a factoid blow by blow account of the mission failures should look this up immediately. Insightful, heartfelt and a great use of interview snippets and family footage. It is a lovely tribute that lets you know Christa’s legacy will go on for a long time to come.

Rating: 3 / 5 (Good)

Visit the films page for more info on the cast, crew, artwork and screenshot gallery.

If you enjoyed Christa McAuliffe: Reach for the Stars, then you may like…

  • Challenger: The Final Flight – Netflix mini-series that gives huge detail as to how the disaster happened.
  • The Challenger Disaster – Dramatised version of the disaster.
  • Challenger – Movie focused on the investigation of what happened after the disaster.
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