Space Teacher: After Long Wait, Barbara Morgan is Ready to Launch
In the White Room on Launch Pad 39A, mission specialist and educator astronaut Barbara Morgan adjusts the collar of her launch and entry suit before she enters space shuttle Endeavour during a mock countdown on July 19, 2007.
Credit: NASA/Amanda Diller.

This story was updated at 3:27 p.m. EDT.

Twenty-two years after she first answered NASA's call to send a teacher into space, Barbara Morgan is finally set to fly.

But despite that wait, Morgan has said there?s a familiar lesson behind her long path towards the launch pad.

?That?s what defines teachers, is perseverance and patience,? she told reporters in a preflight briefing. ?So I am just doing the job of a teacher.?

Morgan, 55, and six crewmates are now set to launch on Aug. 8 aboard the space shuttle Endeavour to continue assembly of the International Space Station (ISS). The spaceflight, which NASA delayed by 24 hours Friday due to ongoing work on Endeavour, will mark Morgan?s first foray into orbit since NASA selected her in 1985 as the backup educator to New Hampshire high school teacher Christa McAuliffe for the civilian Teacher in Space program.

McAuliffe and six NASA astronauts were killed aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it broke apart just after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. As McAuliffe?s backup, Morgan served as NASA?s Teacher in Space Designee for formal activities before returning to her classroom in McCall, Idaho.

But in 1998, NASA named Morgan as the agency?s first professional educator astronaut, blending the duties of a space shuttle mission specialist with those of a teacher to reach out to students and the public. But her mission, Morgan said, does not bring McAuliffe?s unfinished flight to a close.

?Christa?s legacy is open-ended,? Morgan said in an interview, adding that she felt it was important to pursue a spaceflight after the tragedy to show students how adults responded to bad situations. ?She was, is and always will be our teacher in space.?

Teaching from Space

By the time she applied to NASA?s Teacher in Space program, Morgan - at 33 - was an accomplished educator.

The Fresno, California native began teaching math and reading in 1974 on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Arlee, Montana, then later moved on to McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in Idaho. She applied to NASA after a year teaching English to students in Quito, Ecuador, but education will always be her passion, she said.

?It was something I wanted to do when I was little because I loved learning and I had great teachers growing up,? Morgan said in a NASA interview. ?I think they had a lot of influence on me.?

After completing her educator astronaut training, Morgan served as a spacecraft communicator (or CAPCOM), acting as the voice of Mission Control to astronaut crews in space. NASA named her to the STS-118 crew in 2002, but the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-astronaut crew a year later put her flight on hold.

She has relied on the support of her husband Clay and two sons throughout her training, she said.

?They are very proud of the program,? Morgan said, adding that she believes space exploration is vital to spur students onward in their education. ?They know it?s important and they?re glad that we get to have a chance to be part of it.?

Full fledged spaceflyer

Morgan has only about six dedicated hours for purely educational tasks during the STS-118 mission, part of which she?ll be using to help demonstrate how plant?s grow in space. At least one - and possibly up to three, time permitting - interactive video events with students on Earth are also slated for the flight.

But Morgan?s primary duties will involved the busy job of hauling some 5,000 pounds (2,267 kilograms) of cargo from Endeavour to the ISS and wielding the shuttle?s robotic arm to install new station hardware.

"I don't look at Barb as a teacher flying on this flight," Endeavour's STS-118 mission commander Scott Kelly said of Morgan in an interview. "I look at her as one of my crewmembers who use to be a teacher."

Mission specialist Tracy Caldwell, who is also making her first spaceflight during STS-118, said Morgan is well-suited to her role as both space educator and professional spaceflyer. Caldwell also credited her own teachers for laying the foundation of her astronaut career.

?She?s a tough cookie and I don?t think anything is going to stand in the way of her doing the job that she?s been asked to do and that she?s been well trained to do,? Caldwell said of Morgan.

But the former Idaho schoolteacher said she hopes her flight is only the first of many for NASA?s educator astronauts. Since her selection, NASA has trained three new teachers to fly in space, and Morgan plans to eventually come full circle and return to classroom.

?I do look forward to going back in the future,? she said. ?I taught for 24 years before taking this lateral move to do this job. And I loved every minute of it.?

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