In elementary school, every kid wanted to be an astronaut. However, the ideas for future careers broadened when the realization set in that the likelihood of being an astronaut is less than a four-foot-one kid playing in the NBA. In 1985-86, Ronald Reagan proposed sending a "citizen passenger" into space to promote the space program. Since kids are troublesome and would probably end up floating out into space, Reagan decided to have teachers apply for the job. Out of 11,000 applicants New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe won the honour.
Unfortunately, this endeavour was cut short 73 seconds in when the Challenger Shuttle exploded after taking off. Since then, the Educator Astronaut program was put on hold. The problem with this program was that it took teachers out of school, permanently, to become astronauts, which resulted in no teachers returning to the classroom to share their space adventures.
It seems NASA has almost stopped its efforts to put citizens into space at the rate they recruit new astronauts. But private companies have taken up the task by manufacturing new reusable space vehicles, which drastically reduce the cost of taking a crew into space while increasing safety. According to teachers-in-space.org, these companies claim to be able to fly thousands of people into space within the next 10 years. Applications are up right now for two teachers to become "Pathfinders." They say that they can train the teachers in a matter of weeks and that the teachers will be "able to keep their day jobs." The program has also spiked interest overseas and abroad-- chairman of the United States Rocket Academy and program project manager, Robert Wright, co-wrote a paper on the subject and says there has been interest from people in Britain and Ireland.
As well as being super interesting, the program isn't significantly expensive. The projected budget is $20 million, which, even with the economic situation of the U.S. right now, is pocket change.
If this program completes in full and there are no hitches, it would be an amazing feat. Not only would the success of this program show that space travel has grown and will continue to improve, but it would produce a solid interaction between astronauts and students. This in turn would likely result in a more widespread interest in science and mathematics because the splendours of their gains would be standing in front of a class, recounting experiences from out of this world. A student, of any age, would be excited to be taught by an astronaut.
No matter how this program turns out, it's still a step in the right direction. Space travel has always been a common curiosity and interest. Although it's only open to a thousand lucky teachers, it moves us ever closer to a weekend getaway on a space shuttle.