This week, a 55-year-old teacher will embark on a mission to the international space station on the shuttle Endeavour in an attempt to successfully send the first teacher into space. Barbara Morgan has been waiting for Tuesday’s mission her entire life. Back in 1985, she was chosen to be the back-up to teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe and trained with her in Houston for six months before the Challenger disaster killed all seven members on board 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

After the accident, Morgan continued to teach grade school students in Idaho but stated on as the teacher-in-space designee in case the opportunity ever arose again to send her into space. Since then, she has given speeches and served on a federal task force for women. She has aided NASA in determining how to include space in schools’ curriculum. In 1998, Morgan was asked to become a certified astronaut. Three teachers since have joined the astronaut corps.

Morgan was set to realize her dream in 2004, but after the Columbia disaster in 2003, all shuttle flights were grounded to the Space Station. If everything goes according to plan, Morgan will spend next week helping to move 5,000 pounds of cargo from the shuttle to the space station and relocating a stowage platform using the shuttle’s robotic arm. If the mission is extended to 14 days, the astronauts will take a fourth space walk to install protective panels to stop debris from hitting the station. Meanwhile, she will be answering questions from school children in Idaho, and if the mission is extended to 14 days, she will also be able to talk to students in Virginia and Massachusetts. Despite the attention, she credits McAuliffe with being the first teacher in space.
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