Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

This Third-Grade Teacher Can't Wait to Lift Off

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

This Third-Grade Teacher Can't Wait to Lift Off

Article excerpt

The last time Barbara Morgan geared up for a shuttle flight, she was the backup for Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space participant. The two women had six months of training, including 20 hours of required reading, fittings for their space suits, and selection of menus for the mission.

This time, she's not just training to be a "citizen passenger." She's going as a full-fledged astronaut, NASA's first mission specialist in education.

The training, which begins in August, is at least 18 months longer and light years more rigorous. The tone of the assignment has also changed. The original goal of launching an ordinary citizen into space - first a teacher, then a journalist - was to demonstrate that space travel was safe. Some 73 seconds into the 1986 Challenger launch, that objective shattered: The shuttle exploded, killing all seven crew members including teacher McAuliffe. As many called for scrapping future launches, Mrs. Morgan emerged as one of the space program's strongest defenders. The No. 2 teacher carried out the tour that had been planned for McAuliffe, and assured the public that NASA would figure out what went wrong. She was dubbed the "person taking up the challenge." Then she returned to her third-grade classroom in McCall, Idaho, and waited for NASA to call. It took 12 years. In January, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin invited her to join the astronaut class of 1998. Her enthusiasm for space fires as brightly as ever: "It's an opportunity for unlimited learning, and an opportunity for all of us, and especially our students," she says. "We've got a huge neighborhood out there called the universe and it's constantly expanding." She's also got her eye on the international space station. "We're building a space station, and I plan to help build it." But her students are never far from her comments about this mission. She worries that she's not spending enough time with her third-graders "who need to graduate and get on to the fourth grade. …

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