Barbara S. Feldman, 81, of Voorhees, a public-school educator and pilot who wanted to fly on the Space Shuttle Challenger but lost out to teacher Christa McAuliffe, died Wednesday, March 11, of complications from dementia at Arden Courts of Cherry Hill.
Born in the Bronx in New York City, Mrs. Feldman graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn. At age 16, she enrolled in the University of Michigan and graduated in three years with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and physics. While in college, she was a synchronized swimmer.
In 1958, Mrs. Feldman became a chemistry teacher at Bound Brook High School in Somerset County, N.J. In the early 1970s, she taught chemistry at Plainfield High School in nearby Plainfield. Later in the 1970s, she was head swim and diving coach for the boys’ and girls’ teams at Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights.
Mrs. Feldman had always been interested in aviation, so she learned to fly. She received a commercial pilot’s license in 1976 and started a private charter flight service. She flew executives and casino high rollers from New York to Atlantic City.
But because she was a woman, the male passengers expected her to serve them drinks and take care of their luggage, she told her family. As a feminist, she would not agree to that, so she returned to teaching in 1980.
She earned a master’s degree from Rutgers University and became vice principal of Lakewood High School in Ocean County. She then took a job as principal of Manville High School in Somerset County.
Her enthusiasm for flying was a constant in her life as an educator. Wherever she went, she told students about her fascination with flying. “It was like going to high school and learning aviation,” said her daughter, Lori Winter.
She created a program at Plainfield High to teach students about flying and the physics of flight. To make the lessons interesting, she invited speakers who were applying to become astronauts.
One guest, Charles F. Bolden Jr., flew four space shuttle missions in the 1980s and later became NASA’s administrator.
“She maintained a friendship with Bolden and was often a VIP at shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral,” Winter said.
In 1984, Mrs. Feldman applied to the Teacher in Space Project, a NASA program designed to spur interest in space exploration. The plan was to carry a teacher into space aboard a shuttle as a payload specialist. The teacher would give a 15-minute lesson from space and return to the classroom to share the experience of space flight with students.
Mrs. Feldman competed with others to fly on the Challenger, and was a finalist in the selection process, her daughter said. Ultimately, she was edged out by McAuliffe, from Concord, N.H.
On Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into flight, killing McAuliffe and the other six crew members.
“Preceding the launch, she was able to arrange for closed caption TV of the shuttle launch at Plainfield High School,” her daughter said. “Afterward, while she was shaken, she said she still would have flown for 73 seconds of going into space.”
Outside the classroom, Mrs. Feldman enjoyed skiing, opera, theater, and music.
She was married to Barton Feldman. They divorced; he survives. She was remarried to Ciro Maglione, who also survives.
Besides her daughter, Mrs. Feldman is survived by a son, Lee; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a brother.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Friday, March 13, at Platt Memorial Chapels, 2001 Berlin Rd., Cherry Hill. Due to public-health concern over the coronavirus, the family will not have a receiving line. The service will be livestreamed for those who wish to watch remotely on Platt Memorial’s YouTube page. Burial is private.
Shiva will be observed at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15, through Wednesday, March 18, at the home of Lori and Jonathan Winter.