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US Space Shuttle Endeavour Launches Safely with Teacher on Board

The U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour has lifted off into space late Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida and is heading towards the International Space Station for a construction mission. As Cindy Saine reports from Washington, the spotlight is on teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan.

The first mission of the space shuttle Endeavour in more than four years is off to a smooth start, counted down by George Diller of Launch Control Center. "Four, three, two, one, zero and lift off of space shuttle Endeavour, expanding the International Space Station while creating a classroom in space."

Seven astronauts are on board the Endeavour, but much of the focus is on teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan. The 55-year-old has waited 22 years for the chance to teach schoolchildren from outer space. NASA had picked Morgan as the backup "Teacher in Space" for Christa McAuliffe, one of the seven astronauts killed when the Challenger exploded seconds after liftoff in 1986. Morgan was just a few kilometers from the launchpad, watching as the shuttle blew up. She joined NASA as a full-fledged astronaut in 1998, and this is her first time in space.

Launch Control's George Diller gave Morgan a special mention: "Barbara Morgan seated down on the mid-deck. Morgan racing towards space on the wings of a legacy."

The plan had been for Christa McAuliffe to teach two live lessons from space, telling children what it is like to live and work aboard the space shuttle. Now, Morgan is also set to speak with school children from orbit.

At a recent news conference, she talked about the message she hopes to deliver. "What I would like them to do is take a good look, again, at themselves and their own curiosities and what they want to know and learn, and I look forward to our students looking with pride at their own teachers and all that they do to help them get ready for the future," she said.

Morgan will also operate a robot arm and oversee the transfer of cargo from Endeavour into the space station. Hundreds of school teachers gathered at the launch site in Cape Canaveral to cheer for the launch.

On Tuesday, First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher herself, phoned Morgan to offer congratulations, as she said, "from one schoolteacher to another."

Endeavor Commander Scott Kelly and his crew are set to deliver a new truss segment to the International Space Station and to attach a replacement gyroscope. NASA plans three or possibly four spacewalks to attach all the new parts.

The shuttle is set to dock at the International Space Station on Friday, and the mission will last at least 11 days.