Space Teacher: After Long Wait, Barbara Morgan is Ready to Launch

Teacher-Astronaut Marks NASA Anniversary with Shuttle Launch Drill
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. (Image credit: NASA/Amanda Diller.)

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

Twenty-two yearsafter she first answered NASA's call to send a teacher into space, BarbaraMorgan is finally set to fly.

But despitethat wait, Morgan has said there?s a familiar lesson behind her long pathtowards the launch pad.

?That?swhat defines teachers, is perseverance and patience,? she told reporters in apreflight 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 NASAselected her in 1985 as the backup educator to New Hampshire high school teacherChrista McAuliffe for the civilian Teacher in Space program.

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

But in1998, NASA named Morgan as the agency?s first professional educator astronaut, blendingthe duties of a space shuttle mission specialist with those of a teacher toreach out to students and the public. But her mission, Morgan said, does notbring McAuliffe?s unfinished flight to a close.

?Christa?slegacy 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 alwayswill be our teacher in space.?

Teaching from Space

By the timeshe applied to NASA?s Teacherin Space program, Morgan - at 33 - was an accomplished educator.

The Fresno,California native began teaching math and reading in 1974 on the FlatheadIndian Reservation in Arlee, Montana, then later moved on to McCall-DonnellyElementary School in Idaho. She applied to NASA after a year teaching Englishto students in Quito, Ecuador, but education will always be her passion, shesaid.

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

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

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

?They arevery proud of the program,? Morgan said, adding that she believes spaceexploration is vital to spur students onward in their education. ?They know it?simportant 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 purelyeducational tasks during the STS-118 mission, part of which she?ll be usingto help demonstrate how plant?s grow in space. At least one - and possibly upto three, time permitting - interactive video events with students on Earth arealso slated for the flight.

But Morgan?sprimary duties will involved the busy job of hauling some 5,000 pounds (2,267kilograms) of cargo from Endeavour to the ISS and wielding the shuttle?srobotic 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 aninterview. "I look at her as one of my crewmembers who use to be ateacher."

Missionspecialist 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 professionalspaceflyer. Caldwell also credited her own teachers for laying the foundationof her astronaut career.

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

But theformer Idaho schoolteacher said she hopes her flight is only the first of manyfor NASA?s educator astronauts. Since her selection, NASA has trained three newteachers to fly in space, and Morgan plans to eventually come full circle andreturn to classroom.

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

  • VIDEO: Teaching the Future: Teacher-Astronaut Barbara Morgan
  • Complete Space Shuttle Mission Coverage
  • IMAGES: NASA's STS-117 Shuttle Mission in Pictures


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.