NASA Head Hints at a Decision on Teacher-in-Space Program

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The head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced that he intends to decide soon whether to reactivate the agency's teacher-in-space program.

In an informal address in late August at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, N.H., Daniel Goldin, the recently appointed NASA administrator, said a decision could be reached within a month or two, agency officials confirmed.

Mr. Goldin's comments reflect his desire to reach a decision on the matter quickly, according to NASA officials.

Teresa Sindelar, a NASA spokeswoman, noted that decisions about upcoming shuttle missions are made early each year. Mr. Goldin's address, therefore, could signal an important policy change.

"If [he'd] followed established patterns, he didn't need to address this again until next spring,'' she said.

NASA generally schedules shuttle missions at least a year in advance and the prospective teacher-astronaut would have to undergo several weeks of routine flight training before being eligible for the mission, officials noted.

The teacher-in-space program has been on hold since the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Seven crew members died, including Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who was to be the first American civilian in space.

'We Are Ready'

President Reagan promised during his 1984 re-election campaign that NASA would fly a teacher aboard the shuttle to symbolize the importance of the profession.

Barbara R. Morgan, a 3rd-grade teacher at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho, was Ms. McAuliffe's backup and remains next in line to fly on a shuttle mission.

In an interview last week, she said that, except for Mr. Goldin's comments, she has had no indication from NASA about when such a flight might take place.

However, Ms. Morgan said, as part of her duties as a NASA spokeswoman for education and space exploration, she continues to undergo annual flight physicals and is prepared to begin training as soon as a decision is made.

Although a second mission has never been scheduled, its status remains "the way it's been since the Challenger accident,'' Ms. Sindelar said.

Under its former administrator, Adm. Richard Truly, NASA "always planned to honor that commitment'' by scheduling a flight after safety and logistical problems were solved, she noted.

"When Adm. Truly left [earlier this year], he said we were ready,'' Ms. Sindelar said.

A Teacher to Mir?

In a related development, an organization that is holding a competition to send an American educator to the space station Mir has extended its deadline for applications.

Wayne R. Matson, of Aerospace Ambassadors, a Huntsville, Ala.-based group that is sponsoring the teacher-cosmonaut program, said last week that entries for the competition will be accepted until April 1993.

The flight itself is now scheduled for the fall of 1994, he added.

Mr. Matson says he has an agreement with officials in the former Soviet space hierarchy that will permit his firm to select an educator-cosmonaut and an alternate candidate for a flight to the space station.

Under the terms of the agreement, according to Mr. Matson, officials of the former Soviet space agency would choose the educator who will fly on the mission.

An advertisement that appeared last October in Education Week and in other publications stated that the competition was scheduled to close this spring, with the names of the 10 finalists for the 1993 flight to be announced this summer at the International Aerospace & Education Convention.

The deadline has been pushed back Mr. Matson said, to give more time to potential entrants in a related contest to send packages of scientific experiments to Mir.

Mr. Matson said that 18,000 educators already have paid a nonrefundable entry fee. Although the fee was originally $100, a two-tiered system now exists which allows entrants to pay as little as $25.

Vol. 12, Issue 3, Page 9

Published in Print: September 23, 1992, as NASA Head Hints at a Decision On Teacher-in-Space Program
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