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November 30, 1986|Patricia E. Klein | Klein, a reporter in the Los Angeles Times' Valley Bureau, was a semi-finalist for the Journalist in Space program. and

"I TOUCH THE FUTURE . . ." THE STORY OF CHRISTA McAULIFFE by Robert Hohler (Random House: $16.95; 255 pp.; black-and-white photographs). Christa McAuliffe habitually arrived at her high school teaching job seconds before the bell rang, her hair dripping wet from the shower. The more than 11,000 teachers who entered the competition to become the first private citizen in space included Rhodes scholars, authors, pilots and doctors. But it was McAuliffe, the disarmingly ordinary Concord, N.H., social studies teacher who got the unanimous vote of the judges. Her mandate--to view the splendor of the cosmos from a vantage point available to few people on Earth, then come back and share the wonder with us all--made her seem like the luckiest woman alive.

This biography of McAuliffe by the hometown newspaper reporter who followed McAuliffe from the time she was chosen until the tragic explosion of the Challenger, vividly captures the excitement and pandemonium that engulfed McAuliffe and her family after her selection: the parades, cheering crowds, autograph seekers, sacks full of fan mail, persistent reporters--even an appearance on the Johnny Carson show. But the opportunity came at a price.

Robert Hohler is at his best in describing the rupture in McAuliffe's family life caused by her sudden thrust into fame. McAuliffe's attorney husband, Steve, dines on cornflakes for dinner several nights a week. The children, unimpressed by the hoopla, simply miss their mother. McAuliffe, in training in Texas for the flight, alternately experiences exhilaration and aches with loneliness for her family.

But the biography suffers from a disappointing superficiality. It's all in there: from McAuliffe's infant bouts with asthma to the time her dog grabbed her by the pants as she rode her tricycle onto a busy street, her growth into womanhood, her enthusiasm and skill as a teacher. But it is as if Hohler spent eight hours with McAuliffe rather than eight months, and never once had a heart-to-heart talk with her or her family.

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