Christa McAuliffe’s dream of reaching for the stars has inspired millions since her tragic death in 1986.

On Tuesday, three people helping students in Manchester take to the skies were honored with silver dollars commemorating the Concord teacher’s legacy.

Bedford inventor and U.S. FIRST founder Dean Kamen stopped by the plane-building workshop at Manchester School of Technology (MST) on Tuesday to present Christa McAuliffe commemorative silver dollars to two teachers at the school and to the Aviation Museum, whose volunteers organized the program.

Kamen met students and volunteers who’ve been working since 2019 to build the airplane, a two-seat RV-12iS light sport aircraft. The airplane is being assembled by students in partnership with the Aviation Museum of N.H. and Tango Flight, an educational nonprofit.

Kamen said he’s impressed by the program.

“I think getting kids to actually perform hands-on, real engineering, real manufacturing, is so critical to their future and this country’s future,” said Kamen. “Look what’s happened to our education. We have so downplayed the role of manufacturing in our culture over the last couple of generations and look at what that has done to us. We scoff at words like ‘blue-collar worker.’ I’m sorry, you mean the people that make the stuff we need? To create our economy and security? I’m a blue-collar worker and intend to be one the rest of my life.”

The plane build is the first in a planned series of student-built aircraft. The program is designed to give MST engineering students hands-on experience in a range of disciplines, from manufacturing and assembly to aeronautical engineering.

The completed aircraft will be sold on the open market, with the proceeds used to build the next airplane. Startup funding of $350,000 was provided by local businesses, with organizers touting the fact the program hasn’t cost the school district “a dime.”

Flight testing of the completed aircraft is expected to occur in the spring of 2022.

Former MST principal Karen Hannigan-Machado, who retired at the end of last school year, praised the lessons students are learning from mentors.

“We started this adventure way back in December of 2018, when we were presented with this crazy idea of students building an airplane that we’re actually not only going to sell but actually fly in,” said Machado. “Here we are, a few years and one pandemic later, and we’re still at it.”

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined in 2019 that we would be shutting down schools a short time later for months because of COVID,” said Timothy Otis, acting principal at MST. “Obviously we had hoped to have the plane out of here in a year, maybe two at most. It’s behind schedule but for a good reason, but it’s being done right and the students are getting a wonderful experience out of it.”

After touring the workshop, Kamen presented a McAuliffe coin to the Aviation Museum during a ceremony in the school’s Brennan Center.

The coin was received by Jack Barry, an Aviation Museum volunteer who mentors students and manages the plane-build project.

Barry, a retired pilot and mechanic with more than 50 years experience, was named “Senior Volunteer of N.H.” in 2020 for his commitment to the plane-build project.

Christa McAuliffe silver dollar coins were also awarded to MST teachers Daniel Cassidy and Athanasia Robinson, two faculty members who’ve shepherded the plane-building project since 2019.

The coins were presented by Shana Hawrylchak, executive director of the SEE Science Center, which is sponsoring a campaign to honor N.H. educators with the McAuliffe coin.

Cassidy has been an educator for over 15 years, with extensive prior experience in private industry. He teaches manufacturing and engineering at MST, and coordinates the plane-building program.

Robinson has taught for over 18 years, and also has extensive private industry experience. She teaches integrated mathematics and science at MST, where she also coordinates the plane-building program.

Members of the public may nominate educators to receive a McAuliffe coin online at https://see-sciencecenter.org/recognize-a-teacher/.