Teacher-astronaut prepares for liftoff

Flashing a big smile, teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan boarded space shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday for liftoff on a mission she hopes will realize the unfulfilled dreams of her predecessor, Christa McAuliffe.

Teacher-astronaut prepares for liftoff
Good weather was forecast for the planned early evening launch.

Morgan beamed and waved at the cameras and crowd as she boarded the van that transported the shuttle crew to the launch pad. She stood at the base of the pad, looking up at the towering Endeavour, before riding the elevator up with her six colleagues. Before crawling into the shuttle, she sipped water from a bottle and tapped the shoulder of a crewmate who was waiting to board.

Morgan was McAuliffe's backup for Challenger's doomed flight in 1986 and, despite two space shuttle tragedies, never gave up in her quest to carry out McAuliffe's mission.

"Barbara deserves a lot of recognition for her interest, her toughness, her resiliency, her persistence in wanting to fly in space and eventually doing so," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Wednesday afternoon. "I'm glad she's on this flight."

Seven astronauts are assigned to this latest mission to the international space station, but it's Morgan who is stealing the show.

More than half of NASA's 114 Teacher-in-Space nominees in 1985 gathered at the launch site, along with hundreds of other educators eager to see Morgan fly.

Also on hand was the widow of Challenger's commander, who said she would be praying and pacing at liftoff and would not relax until Morgan was safely back on Earth in two weeks.

"The Challenger crew — my husband, Dick Scobee, the teacher Christa McAuliffe — they would be so happy with Barbara Morgan," said June Scobee Rodgers. "It's important that the lessons will be taught because there's a nation of people waiting, still, who remember where they were when we lost the Challenger and they remember a teacher was aboard."

Griffin met Tuesday night with several members of the Challenger astronaut families in town for the launch — although not the McAuliffe family — and said they did not seem worried.

"They didn't act like they came to see another tragedy," he told The Associated Press. "They're here to celebrate her having a chance to fly."

Griffin knows better than most that NASA could lose another teacher in flight, and he's well aware of what an awful tragedy that would be.

"Every time we fly I know that we can lose a crew," Griffin said Wednesday afternoon. "That occupies a large portion of my thoughts. Unless we're going to get out of the manned space flight business, that thought is going to be with me every time we fly."

Endeavour's commander, Navy Cmdr. Scott Kelly, and his crew are delivering a new beam to the space station as well as a replacement gyroscope. Three and possibly four spacewalks are planned to attach all the new parts.

A week into the flight, Morgan, 55, will speak with schoolchildren in Idaho, where she lived and taught before joining NASA in 1998 as its first educator-astronaut. She'll also answer questions from students in two other states if the mission is extended from 11 days to 14 days as planned. The crew will test a new power converter that should allow the shuttle to remain docked to the station longer than ever before.

Endeavour is fresh from an overhaul that's kept it grounded for nearly five years. Besides the power transfer system, the shuttle has been equipped with complete satellite navigation and improved main engine monitoring equipment.

Liftoff had been scheduled for Tuesday, but last week NASA delayed the flight by a day because of a leaky valve in the crew cabin that needed to be replaced.

NASA is hoping a successful flight will draw some attention away from the rash of embarrassments it's faced this year, most recently a NASA-commissioned medical panel's report suggesting astronauts were intoxicated on launch day on at least two occasions.

Griffin said Wednesday that NASA is investigating the anonymous allegations. The space agency's top safety official has gone back 10 years through every shuttle flight and can find no flight surgeon, astronaut or document hinting at launch day drinking by a crew member, he said.

"This is not a credible scenario. They're on TV. We just watched them having breakfast," Griffin said, referring to the Endeavour astronauts.

"The charges seem uncredible, and it also seems uncredible that somebody would just make it up. That's why it's so puzzling and that's why it's serious and that's why we will investigate."

AP
Last Mod: 08 Ağustos 2007, 23:25
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