Teacher-Astronaut Outlines Her Role for Shuttle Operations

By David J. Hoff — April 09, 2003 3 min read
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Once Barbara R. Morgan enters orbit, she’ll be monitoring pictures of Earth, preparing astronauts to walk in space, and eventually assisting the space shuttle’s flight team as it lands the craft.

But while doing all of that, the educator-astronaut told science teachers meeting here last month, she will also be helping teachers show their students the science behind the 11-day mission that she and the rest of the crew will be conducting.

“Education will be tied in directly with the goals of the mission,” Ms. Morgan said in an interview after addressing a luncheon audience at the National Science Teachers Association’s annual convention. The event marked her most extensive public appearance since the space shuttle Columbia crashed in February on its return trip to Earth.

Explore the NASA Explorer Schools program, at the National Science Teachers Association.

Ms. Morgan had been scheduled to fly on the Columbia later this year, but her mission and the rest of NASA’s shuttle program are on hold while the cause of the crash is investigated. (“Shuttle Crash Fails to Deter NASA Interest,” Feb. 12, 2003.)

When the mission does get under way, she told an audience of teacher colleagues interested in aerospace education, her educational work will be so important that the patch commemorating the flight will include images of an apple and the torch of knowledge.

While on board the space shuttle, Ms. Morgan promises to be in touch with teachers and children all over the United States and Canada. She’ll use ham radios, e-mail, and video downlinks to talk with students and teach them about the flight’s mission and the science behind it.

On days when she and the rest of the crew will be too busy to get in touch with schools, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will provide curriculum materials directly related to the shuttle’s task of the day so teachers can keep students informed of the mission’s progress.

Waiting Her Turn

In 1986, Ms. Morgan, then a 3rd grade teacher in McCall, Idaho, was the backup to New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died along with the rest of the crew when the shuttle Challenger exploded. Ms. Morgan waited 12 years before NASA invited her to start full-time training for a shuttle mission. (“Idaho Teacher to Train for Space Flight,” Jan. 28, 1998.)

Even though her flight date remains uncertain, Ms. Morgan is actively preparing to fly, she told the luncheon audience, a small portion of the 13,000 educators who attended the March 26-30 convention. Several in the audience were part of NASA’s Teacher-in-Space program in the 1980s, which launched Ms. Morgan’s second career as an astronaut.

While on board the shuttle, Ms. Morgan said, she will be a “space walk choreographer” who will help two astronauts leave the shuttle and attach a new section to the International Space Station. She will help the space walkers put on their equipment and ensure they have everything they need. Once they leave the shuttle, she will coach them through completing their job.

When the shuttle re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, she will help the pilot and the commander as they navigate the spacecraft to landing.

The experience of preparing for her shuttle mission has helped the teacher-turned-astronaut relearn one key element to success in the classroom: With time and practice, all students will eventually learn the tasks they need to succeed.

In a separate announcement made at the convention, NASA officials said that the science teachers’ association would administer the space agency’s new Explorer Schools program. Through the program, 50 schools will be selected to send teams of teachers to NASA facilities for summer professional development. The program will start in the 2003-04 school year by supporting projects serving grades 5-8.

Over the course of three years, according to NSTA, the program will help the teachers and administrators revise their mathematics and science curricula to include real-life examples from NASA projects. It also will give students information about careers at NASA and other scientific organizations.

The schools also will receive up to $10,000 each to buy equipment needed to make the changes in the classroom.

The project replaces a series of workshops that the NSTA conducted to educate teachers about the space agency’s work.


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