HOUSTON -- Astronautteacher Barbara Morgan made a hometown call from orbit Thursday, radioingstudents at her former teaching grounds as NASA discussed the necessity of heatshield fix for the shuttle Endeavour.
After onethwarted attempt due to orbital mechanics, Morgan successfully reached studentsat McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho, where shetaught English and mathematics before joining NASA's astronaut corps.
"Wemiss McCall a whole bunch and look forward to coming down some time andanswering more questions, and sharing this whole experience," Morgan toldthe students via a ham radio signal. Ham radio operator Tony Hutchinson ofSouth Australia relayed her words to McCall-Donnelly students.
Morgan, 55,spent Thursday overseeing cargo transfer between Endeavour and theInternational Space Station (ISS), where she and her STS-118 crewmates are inthe midst of a busyconstruction flight. Her crewmates and mission managers also discussed whethera small gouge in Endeavour's tile-covered belly will need tobe repaired in a Saturday spacewalk. A decision is anticipated for lateThursday.
But Morganalso paused in her work to answerquestions from schoolchildren, first at Alexandria, Virginia's ChallengerCenter for Space Science Education and then with McCall-Donnelly students.
"I'vebeen involved with NASA for over 20 years," Morgan told schoolchildren,adding that her professional astronaut training officially began nine yearsago. "One of my jobs, and one I think I like the best, is getting to beone of the robotic arm operators."
Studentsasked Morgan how difficult it is to eat without gravity, how she slept in spaceand what protected the ISS and Endeavour from asteroids and space debris.
"Wehave a lot of protection onboard both the shuttle and the station," Morgansaid as she described the station's armored metal plates. ?
Bycoincidence, Endeavour commander Scott Kelly reported finding a tiny, one millimeternick in one of the orbiter's forward facing flight deck windows earlierThursday. But the miniscule scuff, located on the outermost layer of athree-panel thick window, posed no threat to the shuttle or its crew, NASAsaid.
Morgan saidthat sleeping in space is quite comfortable, but swallowing food was achallenge at first, primarily because it was odd not having gravity to pull itdown to her stomach, she added.
Morgan taughtat McCall-Donnelly between 1975 and 1998, interrupted only by a one-year stintto teach in Quito, Ecuador and her call to NASA. The space agency firstselected Morgan in 1985 as the backup for New Hampshire high school teacherChrista McAuliffe set to fly aboard Challenger during NASA's Teacher in Spaceprogram.
But Morganreturned to McCall-Donnelly after the 1986 Challenger accident and taught until1998, when NASA recalled the Idaho schoolteacher to serve as a full-fledged missionspecialist and educator astronaut.
Morgan hassaid she hopes to return to teaching at in Idaho once her work as an astronautis complete.
NASA isbroadcasting Endeavour's STS-118 mission live on NASA TV. Click here for mission updates andSPACE.com's NASA TV feed.
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