Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan and her six Endeavour "classmates" returned to Houston Wednesday afternoon, the day after completing their orbital "field trip" with a landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Awaiting their arrival at Ellington Field was a crowd of several hundred, including their families, friends, VIPs, NASA co-workers, and the public.
"The Endeavour has landed! And the Endeavour has landed safely!" proclaimed Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who together with Representative Nick Lampson presented each of the STS-118 crew members with a Congressional Certificate of Excellence.
"Scott and Charlie, Tracy, Rick, Dave, Alvin and Barbara Morgan, we congratulate all of you all on a successful mission," said Lampson.
The crew, who flew back to Houston on a Gulfstream jet, took turns thanking their colleagues and sharing their thoughts about the 13-day mission from their seats on a stage set-up at the front of a hangar.
"This mission was a very exciting mission," said Dave Williams, who flew representing the Canadian Space Agency. "It had all the three main elements of exciting space flight: using cutting edge technology to continue building the space station; doing science and research in space; and also, that element that's dear to our hearts, education."
"I think the commitment to education on this mission was absolutely outstanding and it represents the desire of NASA to go forth and stimulate the next generation of space explorers, of researchers, of engineers who are going to take us back to the Moon and beyond. And there is no person better to do that than Barb Morgan," said Williams.
Morgan, who originally was chosen as back-up to Christa McAuliffe on the ill-fated 1986 Challenger mission, used part of her time aboard Endeavour to talk with students in her home state of Idaho and at the Challenger Center for Space Education, as well as flew millions of basil seeds for teachers to incorporate into an engineering challenge to design a plant growth chamber for the Moon's surface.
"You teachers are doing a great job making a difference for our young people, for their future and for all of our future," said Morgan while thanking the education offices and organizations that supported her flight. "With all of this, and with space exploration, I can't wait to see what comes next."
Joining Morgan for her live broadcasts from space was first time flyer Alvin Drew, who was a late addition to the crew due to changes in the manifest.
"I came late to this dance," joked Drew. "For me, this was an unexpected adventure, but an excellent adventure none the less. And I got to learn a few things, or re-learn a few things about adventures. First, is that they come in two separate parts: you have your destination and you've got your journey."
"For me the destination was obvious from day one, we were going to go add to the international space station and make it a better place. But the part that I hadn't focused on, the surprise lesson, was the journey itself."
Drew was added to the flight after it was decided to move astronaut Clay Anderson from STS-118 to the previous mission, beginning his stay on the station early. Though he was no longer part of their crew, Anderson still played a part in the success of Endeavour's mission.
"Special thanks to Clay Anderson," extended mission specialist Rick Mastraccio. "Clay is living on-board the space station right now and it takes a special person to live up there for four to six months."
"As you can imagine, we got there, seven people barging into your house and taking over your house for about a week or so and he was just so pleasant. He was just great. He helped us every step of the way," Mastraccio recalled.
For pilot Charles "Scorch" Hobaugh, this mission was his second visit to 'Clay's house'.
"My first flight was about six years ago and the station was pretty large at that time. The internal volume is pretty much the same as it's now but it has grown tremendously on the outside and has really increased its capability. It's got more internal capacity, more experiments going on, more real science going on," Hobaugh reflected.
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