Morgan To Fly On Shuttle, NASA Affirms
Washington--The head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said last week that the agency "has a commitment" to allow a teacher-astronaut to participate in an undetermined future space-shuttle mission.
The remarks by James C. Fletcher, nasa's administrator, were more optimistic about the future of the dormant Teacher in Space Program than some of the comments that followed the January 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
The disaster killed Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected to travel in space, and her six fellow crew members.
In testimony before a Congressional committee in early 1987, Mr. Fletcher indicated that the teacher-astronaut program might be scrapped, and that when nasa resumed flying shuttle missions, its crews would be professional astronauts for "the first five flights, possibly the first 20, and maybe forever."
But in response to a question at the National Press Club last week, Mr. Fletcher said, "I think we have a commitment to the next teacher in space, Barbara Morgan."
Ms. Morgan is the Idaho elementary-school teacher who was the runner-up to Ms. McAuliffe in the original Teacher in Space competition launched by President Reagan in 1984.
Ms. Morgan remains a part-time employee of nasa, a spokesman said.
Mr. Fletcher also called for a journalist and a poet to fly on future shuttle missions to better communicate the experience of space flight to the world.
While the agency may retain its commitment to the Teacher in Space program, it is unlikely that Ms. Morgan or any other teacher will be a member of a shuttle crew anytime soon, said William Sheehan, associate administrator of nasa.
"The one commitment we have at this moment is to Barbara Morgan," Mr. Sheehan said. "That commitment still stands."
He added that it would be "some time" before she might fly on the shuttle but declined to speculate about when because it would not have "any validity."--mw