TOPICS > Science

Shuttle Endeavour Carries Teacher into Space

August 7, 2007 at 6:40 PM EDT
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

MARCIA FRANKLIN, Special Correspondent: In July 1985, Vice President George Bush announced the selection of Barbara Morgan as the runner-up and Christa McAuliffe of New Hampshire as the first teacher in space.

CHRISTA MCAULIFFE: It’s not often that a teacher is at a loss for words. I know my students wouldn’t think so.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: From the beginning, though, it was Christa and Barbara. Morgan was involved in all of the training just in case McAuliffe couldn’t make it to the launch.

JOURNALIST: When you talk about the teacher who was actually ahead of you to be on the shuttle, you frequently refer to it as “we,” as though there really were two of you going.

BARBARA MORGAN, Astronaut-Teacher: Maybe that’s just hopeful thinking, you know? We’re good friends. And we get along well. And we’re buddies. We’re going through the training together. And I don’t feel like a shadow. I feel every part, every bit as involved as Christa. So I guess that’s why I keep saying “we.”

NASA RADIO: Challenger, go with throttle up.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: But in 1986, Barb lost her partner, when Christa died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

NASA RADIO: Obviously a major malfunction.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: After the accident, Morgan went right to her students.

BARBARA MORGAN: Kids were watching to see, “What do adults do in a terrible, terrible situation?” And what I felt was really important for kids to see is that we figure out what’s wrong, we fix it, and we move on.

A new beginning with NASA

Barbara Morgan
Astronaut
If we don't take any risks at all, we're not going anywhere. And we encourage -- we teachers encourage our students all the time in the classroom to take some risks, risk in opinion, risk asking a question, risk trying something new.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: But NASA would not move on with the teacher in space program. It was seen as too dangerous, both literally and politically, to send an untrained civilian into space. Barbara continued to teach in McCall and make presentations for NASA. But 12 years would pass, then a break.

BARBARA MORGAN: Hi, I'm Barbara Morgan. I'm joining this class as an educator mission specialist.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: In 1998, NASA asked Barbara to come back to Houston, but this time as a full-fledged astronaut, not as a passenger. So Barbara and her husband, Clay, a writer, moved with her two sons to Texas, a hot, humid world far removed from the mountains of Idaho.

BARBARA MORGAN: You are dripping already.

CLAY MORGAN, Author: Well, I am just hot.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: It was quite a change for the two, who loved cross-country skiing, and the icy twilight of central Idaho, and chopping wood for their cabin. For four years, Morgan trained on all the different systems at NASA, eventually working in Capcom, communicating with astronauts on orbit. But she still was not assigned to a mission.

Finally, in 2002, NASA assigned Morgan to the crew of STS-118, to lift off in November 2003. Less than a year before her launch, she talked about why she wanted to go, despite the hazard.

BARBARA MORGAN: If we don't take any risks at all, we're not going anywhere. And we encourage -- we teachers encourage our students all the time in the classroom to take some risks, risk in opinion, risk asking a question, risk trying something new.

NASA RADIO: Columbia, Houston, com check.

NASA RADIO: No one board system config changes right before we launched.

Losing space shuttle Columbia

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Just months later, in February 2003, the risks were all too apparent, as the shuttle Columbia exploded upon re-entry. It was the same shuttle Barbara was scheduled to ride later that year.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: The Columbia's lost. There are no survivors.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Back in Houston, Barbara continued her long days of training.

BARBARA MORGAN: OK, check your com frequency to low...

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Here, she helps choreograph a mock space walk underwater. She learned how to operate a robotic arm and spent countless hours in class learning advanced mathematics. And since the beginning, Barb has always enjoyed the flights in the plane that simulates weightlessness.

ASTRONAUT: Have a good flight.

BARBARA MORGAN: Thank you very much.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Going supersonic in a T-38 is also a thrill.

BARBARA MORGAN: It's sleek, it's fast. It goes 500 miles an hour. Our very first flight was a familiarization flight. And our instructor pilots took us each out flying. And we all came back pretty sick, and we found out that they had a little bet going.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: But all bets were off when it came to when STS-118 would actually fly. Finally, four years after the shuttle Columbia went down, the crew was given a launch date, first in June, and then in August of this year. They'll be flying the shuttle Endeavour, the first time that craft has launched in nearly five years.

WAYNE HALE, Manager, Space Shuttle Program: It's like a new space shuttle. It's been completely inspected from stem to stern for any defects in the wiring, any structural corrosion, and it's come out clean. It's like driving a new car off the showroom floor.

Morgan's duties as a crew member

Scott Kelly
STS-118 Commander
We could not do this flight if we had a person as a crew member that was just dedicated to education. Barbara is a fully functioning member of this crew, and we need her to do space shuttle stuff.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: Morgan's role, though, is so critical she'll barely have any time for educational lessons. Her interaction with students may be limited to one satellite conversation like this.

ASTRONAUT: That's another excellent question. You know, why do we do this?

MARCIA FRANKLIN: In contrast, Christa McAuliffe planned to teach three lessons from space, but the shuttle commander says times have changed.

COMMANDER SCOTT KELLY, STS-118 Commander: We could not do this flight if we had a person as a crew member that was just dedicated to education. Barbara is a fully functioning member of this crew, and we need her to do space shuttle stuff.

MARCIA FRANKLIN: During the mission, Morgan will have several roles. First, she'll be helping examine the shuttle for any damage on lift-off. Then, she'll use robotic arms to help pull a stowage platform out of the shuttle that will be attached to the space station. Morgan is also in charge of moving 5,000 pounds of payload into the station and organizing it. The newest member of the team, Col. Alvin Drew, will be working with her. Because he's just been assigned to the mission, Morgan's been getting him up to speed.

COL. ALVIN DREW, JR., Astronaut: She's not just limited to teaching kids. She gets to teach some of her crewmates, too. And I've been tasking her to the best of her abilities to train me up on things.

One of the things that an educator brings to flight like this is a totally different perspective, looking at it more from the eyes of a student and saying, "How do we understand this? What are the concepts involved? And how can I communicate that to other individuals?"

Focusing on the work

Barbara Morgan
Astronaut
The feelings that are coming now are, 'Oh, my gosh. Do we have enough time to finish up all the things that we need to do to be ready to fly?' But to help calm myself down about that, I remember, 'Well, that's the same way it is in teaching.'

MARCIA FRANKLIN: As the launch nears, Barbara says she's not particularly excited or emotional. She's just focused on the work.

BARBARA MORGAN: The feelings that are coming now are, "Oh, my gosh. Do we have enough time to finish up all the things that we need to do to be ready to fly?" But to help calm myself down about that, I remember, "Well, that's the same way it is in teaching. All of a sudden, you're three weeks, four weeks out from the end of the school year, and you're going, 'Oh, no, we still have all of this stuff left to do.'"

DR. SCOTT PARAZYNSKI, Astronaut: I've told her many, many times it's worth the wait. To see her plan it at a glance, to travel at 18,000 miles an hour, to see sunrise and sunsets every 45 minutes as you go around the Earth, there's just no other experience in life that can top it.

GWEN IFILL: Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman astronaut to walk in space and now the director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University, will answer questions about space travel in a forum on our Web site. To join in, go to PBS.org.