Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/NASA
Christa McAuliffe became the most famous teacher in the U.S. as she prepared to reach for the stars aboard the space shuttle Challenger. A social studies teacher at New Hampshire's Concord High School, she was selected as the first participant in the NASA Teacher in Space Project. She planned to conduct experiments aboard the space shuttle and teach two lessons from space. But tragedy struck, and Challenger disintegrated just 73 seconds after launch. Across the country, schoolchildren were eagerly watching the launch on school televisions, and they were devastated by the loss - but they also were inspired by her story. In the years since, she has been honored for her bravery with dozens of schools named for her, as well as an asteroid and a crater on the Moon. We remember her remarkable life today and the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.
2009: Billy Powell, U.S. musician and the longtime keyboard player for the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, dies at 56.
The band was decimated Oct. 20, 1977, when their chartered plane crashed in a swamp near McComb, Miss. Six people were killed - lead singer Ronnie Van Zant; guitarist Steve Gaines; and his sister, vocalist Cassie Gaines; as well as an assistant road manager, the pilot and co-pilot. Powell was one of the survivors. Read more
2007: The Rev. Robert Drinan, U.S. Roman Catholic priest and politician who represented Massachusetts in Congress for 12 years, dies at 86.
2005: Jim Capaldi, English drummer, singer and songwriter who co-founded the rock band Traffic with Steve Winwood, dies at 60.
2004: Joe Viterelli, U.S. character actor who had roles in movies such as Analyze This and Shallow Hal, dies at 66.
2004: Elroy Hirsch, U.S. National Football League Hall of Fame wide receiver who played most of his career for the Los Angeles Rams, dies at 80.
2002: Astrid Lindgren, Swedish author who wrote the Pippi Longstocking book series, dies at 94.
Lindgren gave Pippi the kind of life most children would love: she lives alone in a big house with her monkey and her horse, and her two best friends live right next door. Though Pippi’s father loves her, he’s usually off on a sea voyage, leaving Pippi to govern herself. She has superhuman strength (she can lift her horse with one hand) and she’s very smart, with a special talent for duping adults who try to take advantage of children. She’s eccentric and free-spirited, and she does whatever she wants. Read more
1996: Jerry Siegel, U.S. comic book writer who was the co-creator of Superman, dies at 81.
1996: Burne Hogarth, U.S. cartoonist known best for his work on the Tarzan newspaper comic strip, dies at 84.
1994: Hal Smith, U.S. character actor known best for his role as Otis the town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show, dies at 77.
1994: William Levitt, U.S. home builder who built the first suburb in America in 1947, Long Island's Levittown, dies at 86.
1993: Aben Kandel, U.S. screenwriter who was known for B movies such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, dies at 96.
1986: U.S. space shuttle Challenger is destroyed seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members: Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnick, Ronald E. McNair, Christa McAuliffe and Gregory B. Jarvis.
1983: Billy Fury, English rock singer who was a major star in his native England, dies of heart failure at 42.
1977: Burt Mustin, U.S. character actor who had a recurring role as Gus the fireman on Leave it to Beaver, dies at 92.
1973: John Banner, Austrian actor best known as Sgt. Schultz in the TV comedy Hogan's Heroes, dies on his birthday at 63.
1960: Zora Neale Hurston, U.S. author best known for her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, dies at 69.
By the mid-'30s, Hurston had published a variety of short stories and essays and a collection of black folklore, Mules and Men, culled from research in Eatonville, Fla., and New Orleans, La. Intrigued by the voodoo rituals she encountered in the latter city, she used her Guggenheim Fellowship grant money to conduct more research in Jamaica and Haiti. It was while doing field research in Haiti that she penned her second novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The book was written in a mere seven weeks (Hurston tended to dash off her novels, seeing them as secondary to her ethnographic research) and is now hailed as a classic of American literature. Read more
1939: William Butler Yeats, Irish poet who won a Nobel Prize in literature for inspired poetry, dies at 73.
814: Charlemagne, German emperor also known as the "Father of Europe," dies at 71.