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Teacher Going Into Space, 21 Years After Challenger Disaster

Engineers with the U.S. space agency NASA are fixing a cabin leak discovered earlier this week in the space shuttle Endeavour. Officials are saying the problem will not delay the scheduled August 7 launch to the International Space Station. The historic mission will be the first for a teacher since the disastrous Challenger accident 21 years ago. VOA's Paul Sisco reports.

Barbara Morgan, 55, is patient. In 1985, the schoolteacher was selected as the backup to teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who later died with six others in the Challenger explosion. Morgan remembers being selected. "We were all really excited and really thrilled to be doing what we were doing," she said, "and Christa was, she was, is and always will be our teacher in space, and our first teacher to fly."

After the accident, plans for a teacher in space were shelved. Morgan went on with her life, raising two sons, and teaching young people.

In 1998 she rejoined NASA as a full-fledged astronaut.

She was to fly on a 2004 shuttle mission. That was later scrubbed as the shuttle program reorganized following the Columbia accident in 2003.
Next Tuesday Astronaut Morgan is trying again, part of a seven person shuttle Endeavour crew making NASA's 22nd flight to the international space station.

"I'll be one of the robotic arm operators, so I'll be using the space shuttle arm and the space station arm to help us move some of these pieces of equipment as we attach them onto the station," she explained, "and I'll be helping on the flight deck coming home, or during what we call entry of the space shuttle back to Earth, and helping with everything we do to make sure we come back home safely."

U.S. Navy commander Scott Kelly is commanding the seven person crew that has been training for months. Charles Hobaugh is Endeavor's pilot. Astronauts Rich Mastracchio and Dr. Dave Williams of the Canadian space agency are returning to space for their second missions. First timers in space, NASA astronauts Alvin Drew, Tracy Galdwell and Barbara Morgan round out the crew as mission specialists.

"The risks are the same for an educator, or a physician or an engineer or a pilot or a chemist, and anyone else who flies in space,” explains Morgan. “We're doing it to learn. We're doing it to explore. We are doing it to discover. We're doing it to help make this world a better place, and we're doing it to help keep those doors open for our young people."

Like all shuttle missions, STS-118 is about the future, bringing the International Space Station a step closer to completion and gathering experience that will help humankind return to the moon someday, eventually go to Mars, and, perhaps, beyond.