CHICAGO: The US Mint announced this week that it will issue a Silver Dollar coin to commemorate Christa McAuliffe, a teacher and a civilian astronaut of Lebanese heritage who died on the Challenger Space Shuttle when it exploded minutes after taking off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Jan. 28, 1986. It will be the first American coin issued in honor of an Arab American.
McAuliffe was the granddaughter of a Lebanese immigrant of Maronite descent, and the great niece of Lebanese American historian Philip K. Hitti.
America’s first “civilian astronaut,” she died along with and six crew mates in an explosion that happened while the launch was being broadcast live on television.
The national search for a civilian to join a Space Shuttle mission began in 1984 when NASA announced it was looking for someone who could share their experiences of the preparations and the mission itself with their fellow Americans.
McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord High school in Concord, New Hampshire, was selected based on recommendations from her students and fellow teachers around the country who knew her work.
The US Mint said it will produce 350,000 of the commemorative coins, which will come in two versions: a Silver Proof Grade Silver Dollar coin preferred by collectors, which will cost $79, and a Silver Uncirculated Grade Silver Dollar that costs $69.
Officials said $10 from each sale will be donated to the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics program, which seeks to engage and inspire young people through mentor-based programs to become future leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. FIRST describes itself as dedicated to carrying on the legacy of Christa McAuliffe by inspiring students and creating a new generation of dreamers and innovators.
Both versions of the coin include the Philadelphia Mint mark, “P,” and the year 2021. The front of the coin features a portrait of McAuliffe with a “hopeful gaze,” along with her name and the inscriptions “liberty” and “in God we trust.”
The back shows McAuliffe in a teaching pose with three students, smiling as she points forward and up. Seven stars above them pay tribute to Challenger crew members who died. Around the border are the inscriptions: “I touch the future. I teach,” “e pluribus unum” (the motto of the US, which means out of many, one), “one dollar,” and “United States of America.” The logo of FIRST is also included.
The coin is available for ordering now and will ship on March 17. It is being released to mark the 35th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.