Monthly Archives: January 2016

Remembering Challenger: 30 Years (and 73 Seconds) Later – The Christa McAuliffe Collection at Framingham State University

In 1984, when Ronald Regan announced that the first citizen to go to space would be “one of America’s finest: a teacher,” Christa McAuliffe was teaching social studies at Concord High School. She was one of the 11,500 applicants reviewed by NASA, but after rigorous tests and examinations, she was chosen to be the first teacher to fly into space.

On her application to NASA Christa wrote, “I watched the Space Age begin and I would like to participate.” With a teacher making the journey into space, NASA hoped to revive public interest in the space program, an interest that had never faded from Christa’s own thoughts. Space-bound and ready to teach the first lessons from the skies, Christa was an example for teachers, children, and hopeful dreamers all across the United States.

Christa’s passion continues to be an inspiration to incoming students at FSU, not only those attending the University, many with the hope of becoming teachers in the future, but also the visitors who stop by to experience the possibilities of space travel and the thrills of science at the Christa McAuliffe Center

Here at Framingham State University, the Christa McAuliffe collection in the Archives and Special Collections, donated by Christa’s mother, Grace Corrigan, also remains a great source of motivation for students and researchers.

The majority of the collection features photographs and a large number of personal letters; many of these letters were written to the family of Christa McAuliffe with thoughts of sympathy and concern following the 1986 Space Challenger tragedy. The collection also features information collected from the McAuliffe center regarding the work they have been conducting for the past 21 years.

A few other letters amongst the collection were written by Christa herself; in one such letter, a young Christa writes about a visit to the Boston Museum of Science. The highlight of this trip involved a show at the planetarium; as the lights went off, “suddenly the stars and the moon came out.” With her eyes turned skyward, Christa was ready for adventures in space.

The McAuliffe Center, dedicated to keeping Christa’s memory and goals alive, as well as the collection here at FSU, reveal the immediate and lasting impact of Christa’s passionate dedication to teaching and lifelong learning. As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Space Challenger disaster this week, and celebrate Christa’s personal goals driven by her own message that “we all have to dream,” we learn by her example that there are greater possibilities made by taking risks and looking forward.

Written by Rebecca Waitt
English Intern 2016

 

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The Creation of the Challenger Collection, Pt. 1

This is the first of a three part series describing the creation of the Challenger collection, a project to digitize and make available primary source materials related to the Space Shuttle Challenger and the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.

The collection can be accessed here.

 

The process of creating any collection begins with curation.  In the case of the Challenger collection most of the heavy lifting had been done for us already.  Because Christa McAuliffe is an alumna of Framingham State our archives and special collections departments have a trove of primary source materials relating to many aspects of her life.  Our goal is to create a collection that focuses specifically on the Challenger disaster and the lives of the astronauts involved.  We are in a fortunate position to have the physical materials concerning Christa already processed and cataloged.  Our first step was to select which material we planned to digitize for inclusion in our collection.

We combed through the hundreds of photographs in the library’s collection, selecting 53 images appropriate for our project.  We eliminated photographs for a number of reasons, such as poor quality or the inclusion of a visually similar image.  We also eliminated photographs due to ethical considerations; for example, we did not think it appropriate to include images of the explosion itself, or of the wreckage salvaged during the recovery process.

In addition to photographs we also have a large collection of ephemera related to Christa’s training and the launch.  We’ve chosen to include parking passes, press kits, personal guest lists, as well as three personal letters written by Christa while she was training at the Johnson Space Center.  The selection process for these materials was straightforward as most of the items pertained directly to the launch.  We selected only the letters Christa wrote while training.

The final items we’ve chosen to include in the collection are two congressional reports written about the Challenger.  The first report was published by the Senate Committee on Science and Technology on June 9, 1986 and is commonly referred to as the Rogers Commission Report.  The second report, Investigation of the Challenger Accident was published by the House of Representatives on October 26, 1986, and is a detailed investigation into the cause of the accident.  As both of these reports were published by the U.S. government they are in the public domain.

With the items for the collection selected we turned to the process of digitization.

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The Creation of the Challenger Collection, Pt. 2

This is the second of a three part series describing the creation of the Challenger collection, a project to digitize and make available primary source materials related to the Space Shuttle Challenger and the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986.

The collection can be accessed here.

 

Once the items were selected for the collection our attention turned to the digitization process.  Because we had selected such disparate material we had to adopt a number of different strategies to ensure the items were digitized properly.

The most straight-forward items to digitize were the photographs.  They fit neatly on our scanner and transferred well to the electronic medium.  Scanners are in essence made for digitizing photographs, so the process presented few problems.  We chose to scan the photographs at the highest resolution our scanner allows.  This gave us the most freedom to manipulate the image if need be, with the trade-off of increased file size.  Since our collection is relatively small the larger file size was not a problem.  The letters and other more or less standard textual material (press-kits and applications) were similarly easy to digitize.  We chose to render these items at a slightly lower resolution as we saw no significant difference in quality between highest and medium resolutions.  Again the scanner was essentially made for these types of items.

The ephemera — that is, those items which did not readily fit into any other category — were slightly more difficult to digitize.  One item — a bright orange parking pass meant to be left on the dashboard of a vehicle parking at the launch site — was larger than a standard 8” x 11” sheet of paper.  It took a few tries to get the coloring to render faithfully for the digitized version.  Other items underwent a similar trial-and-error process before we were satisfied with the result.

The item that gave the most trouble was a governmental report.  It was a 438 page book that could not be pressed flat enough to be scanned on the flatbed scanner we’d used for the photographs and other items.  In order scan the report we had to use a standing scanner.  The book was laid flat and the scanner lens was positioned over it in such a way as to capture the page as a JPEG.  The page was turned and the next page captured.  In order to save time — and so the book could remain roughly in the same place — the odd pages were scanned first.  The book was then flipped and the even pages were scanned starting at the back of the book.  The pages were then converted to PDFs and oddities — such as a slightly rotated page — were corrected.  A few pages required rescanning.  Once all pages were acceptable they were combined in the correct order into a single file.

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