The lesson was just over 20 minutes, but it was supposed to make up for more than 20 years, and it had a bittersweet air for those who knew the history. The last time NASA tried to send a teacher into space, Christa McAuliffe in 1986, the shuttle Challenger broke up 73 seconds into the flight, killing all seven crew members. Ms. Morgan, a teacher from Idaho who was Ms. McAuliffe's backup, was at Kennedy Space Center, watching.
The event yesterday was the culmination of a summer of space-related activities at the Discovery Center of Idaho, in Boise. Ms. Morgan, who is now what the space agency calls an educator astronaut, told the students that being an astronaut was not so different from being a teacher, at least in some ways.
"We explore, we discover and we share," she said. And both "are absolutely wonderful jobs."
Ms. Morgan shared the spotlight with three floating colleagues — Dr. Dafydd Williams of the Canadian Space Agency, Col. Benjamin A. Drew of the Air Force and Clayton C. Anderson, a space station astronaut. They mugged for the young audience, playing with a softball, slurping drinks in microgravity and demonstrating exercise by having Ms. Morgan lift Dr. Williams and Colonel Drew.
Ms. Morgan will have two more sessions, with children in Virginia and Massachusetts.
After the Challenger accident, Ms. Morgan returned to teaching in Idaho, but found herself drawn back to NASA in 1998. In her newly created role at the agency, she received full training and was expected to be an integral part of shuttle missions, but she would teach, too.
On Aug. 8, she got her long-deferred dream, and NASA has made the most of the moment's emotional punch. As the shuttle roared into space, the launching announcer, Rob Navias, said, "Morgan, racing toward space on the wings of a legacy." And when the Endeavour reached orbit, Mr. Navias added, "For Barbara Morgan and her crewmates, class is in session."
For all the talk of teaching, most of Ms. Morgan's time in space is devoted to her duties as an astronaut, including her operation of the shuttle's robotic arm to inspect the shuttle's delicate heat shield for signs of damage.
That work gave details on the three-inch-long gash that an errant chunk of insulating foam made in the underbelly of the shuttle during ascent. Mission managers said yesterday that preliminary computer simulations indicated that the shuttle could fly back as is, with temperatures of the underlying aluminum skin remaining under 325 degrees during re-entry. The managers will make a decision on whether to try a repair after experiments heating similarly gouged tiles and checks of the simulation results.
None of the children asked the kind of question that many people watching coverage of the flight have wondered about, said Doug Lambuth, a spokesman for the Discovery Center. "You mean questions like 'Are you going to be able to make it back?' "
In fact, Mr. Lambuth said, spontaneity was in short supply. The questions "are cast in concrete," he acknowledged. "It's pretty scripted."
And for all the waiting, the session itself was little more than the standard astronaut question-and-answer volley, with the other astronauts answering more of the questions than Ms. Morgan.
If the students noticed, they did not seem to mind. In an interview last week, Sarah Blum, a seventh-grader from Moscow, called it a moment of Idaho pride.
"People think Idaho's just a potato state," said Sarah, whose father had been a high school teacher in McCall when Ms. Morgan taught elementary school there. "I think it's cool that she's from Idaho and she's getting to do this."
Zakkary Schirmeister, who is 11 and lives in McCall, asked his question: what do the stars look like from where you are?
The astronauts explained that without atmosphere, the stars do not twinkle — and since the station is brightly lighted, it is hard to see the stars. Ms. Morgan said it was like the difference between seeing the stars at night from Boise and seeing them from the more rural McCall.
Madison Escarziga had just a few miles to travel to get to the center. Like all of the children, she was chosen because of her interest in science, which is "really cool," she said. "I like learning about experiments. I am really interested in atoms. It's so amazing — they build up everything!"
Elisha Mabey and her parents made the five-hour drive from Rirey, a town of fewer than 600. At the age of 12, she is already considering her career options. At the moment, she said, "I'm still deciding between being an astronaut and a teacher."
Or, she said, "You could be a teacher and go up into space as an astronaut."
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