- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

The 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger took the lives of seven persons five astronauts and two passengers, including the most famous member of the crew, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, NASA's Teacher in Space.
Mrs. McAuliffe beat out 8,000 teachers for the coveted position and was prepared to teach lessons from space. Next year, 17 years after the Challenger disaster, NASA is ready to fly her backup, Barbara Morgan.
But unlike Mrs. McAuliffe, one of the passengers for the 51-L Challenger flight, Mrs. Morgan will be a fully functional career astronaut on the STS-118 mission with responsibilities similar to those of the other astronauts on her crew.
"I'm really excited," Mrs. Morgan said. "I plan to go up there and do my job as a crew member and really learn all I can to be able to bring it back to students and teachers."
Mrs. Morgan said she was in her back yard when NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe told her she had been chosen for the November 2003 flight. Her two teenage sons were practicing electric guitar for their band, and it was too noisy in the house, so Mrs. Morgan walked outside with a cordless phone where she got the news.
Mrs. Morgan was a full-time teacher from 1974 until she found out about the "Teacher in Space" contest in 1985. She was selected as the backup to Mrs. McAuliffe. When Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, Mrs. Morgan was watching from the roof of a nearby building.
Her contract with NASA expired in the fall of 1986, and she returned to her teaching duties but remained available to NASA as a consultant and speaker.
Mrs. Morgan was promised that when shuttle flights resumed and it was safe enough to fly civilians she would have a chance to fulfill her dream. But NASA officials avoided making any decision about flying civilians.
The issue came to a head in January 1998 when NASA administrator Dan Goldin announced that Sen. John Glenn would fly on the shuttle as a test subject. Mr. Goldin explained that the NASA advisory panels recommended that if Mrs. Morgan were to get a space flight she should be trained as completely as any other astronaut and be given full responsibilities effectively becoming a career astronaut.
So instead of a couple of weeks of training, Mrs. Morgan would get two years of training as a member of the astronaut class of 1998, plus additional ground-support roles before flying in space. Mrs. Morgan has not taught any regular classes since she became a full-time astronaut.
Mrs. Morgan's official title is "Educator Astronaut." She has a biology degree from Stanford University, meeting NASA's minimum requirements for a mission specialist astronaut. Because of her unusual background, Mrs. Morgan doesn't have as much operational experience as most astronaut candidates.
"We're really excited about her," chief astronaut Charlie Precourt said. "The fact that she can carry an education mission with her and still be a full mission specialist on the crew is a real bonus."
Mrs. Morgan's flight, the STS-118 mission, is scheduled for launch on Nov. 13, 2003. It will deliver a portion of the International Space Station's power system and cargo. It will mark the first time the space shuttle Columbia, NASA's original space shuttle, visits the space station. Mrs. Morgan will be one of the oldest rookies to fly in space, just a couple of weeks before her 52nd birthday.

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