Space shuttle Endeavour makes a picture-perfect blast off in Florida.
Now, this is long-distance education in the full sense of the word.
A teacher is now zooming in space aboard space shuttle Endeavour in the company of US other astronauts on their way to the International Space Station.
Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan (left), Teacher in space primary and backup crew members pose for Shuttle Mission STS-51L. This mission ended in failure when the Challenger orbiter exploded 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Now, Ms. Morgan (latest photo below) is taking off where her fallen colleague had left off.
Endeavour lifted off from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida last Wednesday, Aug. 8, for a construction mission to the space station.
Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan is fulfilling the dream of Christa McAuliffe and the rest of the fallen Challenger crew who met their fiery end in 1986 when their space shuttle exploded seconds after liftoff.
Immediately after Endeavour reached orbit, Mission Control announced: “For Barbara Morgan and her crewmates, class is in session.”
Morgan, now 55, was McAuliffe’s backup for Challenger’s doomed launch in 1986. Even after two space shuttle disasters, she never swayed in her dedication to NASA and the agency’s on-and-off quest to send a schoolteacher into space. She rocketed away in the center seat of the cabin’s lower compartment, the same seat that had been occupied by McAuliffe.
More than half of NASA’s 114 Teacher-in-Space nominees in 1985 gathered at the launch site, along with hundreds of other educators.
After liftoff, US Education Secretary Margaret Spellings sent congratulations from Washington and called Morgan “an inspiring example for our next generation of teachers, scientists, engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs.”
Midway through the flight, Morgan will speak with students in Idaho, where she taught elementary classes before moving to Houston in 1998 to train as a full-fledged astronaut, the first teacher to do so. If the mission is extended from 11 days to 14 days as planned, she will have a chance to answer questions from students in two other states.
But Morgan’s main responsibility in orbit will be to her commander, Navy Cmdr. Scott Kelly. She will help operate Endeavour’s robot arm and oversee the transfer of cargo from the shuttle to the station. The rest of the crew will be busy installing a huge square-shaped beam to the exterior of the station and replacing a broken gyroscope. Three and possibly four spacewalks are planned.
The space station is currently more than half finished. NASA plans to wrap up construction in 2010 when the shuttle program ends.
Endeavour’s astronauts also will use a 50-foot laser boom on the end of the robot arm to inspect the shuttle’s wings, nose and belly. The scan for damage from fuel-tank insulating foam and other debris from launch, or micrometeorites in space, has been standard procedure ever since Columbia’s catastrophic re-entry in 2003.
NASA is hoping a successful flight will draw some attention away from the rash of embarrassments it has faced this year, most recently a NASA-commissioned medical panel’s report suggesting astronauts were intoxicated on launch day on at least two occasions.
This is Endeavour’s first flight since 2002. The shuttle underwent a massive overhaul and was outfitted with complete satellite navigation, improved main engine monitoring equipment, and a new system for transferring power from the station to the shuttle. The extra power will allow the shuttle to remain docked at the space station longer than ever before.
Besides Morgan and commander Kelly, the crew also includes Marine Lt. Col. Charles Hobaugh, the copilot; Rick Mastracchio, Tracy Caldwell, Air Force Col. Alvin Drew and Canadian physician Dave Williams.
Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan, Teacher in space primary and backup crew members for Shuttle Mission STS-51L. This mission ended in failure when the Challenger orbiter exploded 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986.