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NASA Announces 2004 Mission to Include Teacher

Aired April 16, 2002 - 10:28   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, we might want to listen in to Barbara Morgan. She now plans to be the first teacher in space. She is answering questions at a NASA news conference -- let's listen in to Ms. Morgan.


BARBARA MORGAN, TEACHER ASTRONAUT: ... do as teachers. And the other thing is to -- you know, you get asked what about waiting so long. Well, I have never felt I ever waited. You know, I have I worked, and that's what we teachers do in our classrooms every day, and that's what the NASA astronauts do every single day. They work and work and work. And when the day finally arrives, it finally arrives. It is not something you think about every day. You are truly busy and excited about what you are doing.

I can tell you just for example, working with this mission, it has been a tremendous learning opportunity to learn everything that this crew is currently doing. so that I can do the best job I can as a cab (ph) com (ph). And it's not flying in space, but it's right there.

QUESTION: Mike Falso (ph), CBS News for Mr. O'Keefe. There is a push to get more civilians in space. Explain how this is different from that or explain the differences between this and that program.

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA: Well, first and foremost, I think it's important to recognize that a little less half of all of the astronauts today, Barbara's colleagues, are military. Most of them are civilians, are folks who have come from lots of different backgrounds, lots of different callings, disciplines, interests, as doctors, engineers, physicists, astronomers you name it. I mean, it's a wide range of just really diverse kinds of characteristics to the occasion to dedicate themselves, as Barbara has, towards a specific dimension of it.

But also to be in the larger sense proficient at all of the activities that astronauts are expected to do, very rigorous activities they are expected to do on every single mission. And so, in that respect, those are the civilians who dedicate themselves to being proficient at this, being professional at it, and as a consequence that's one of the dimensions, I think, that is going to be so exciting about having an educator mission specialist series, folks who are dedicated to the task of looking at those important functions that all astronauts are expected to do, through the prism or through the viewpoint of how an educator sees things.

How can you take that set of experiences and translate it to a group of kids, and excite them to want to do things differently and think about things differently because of their experiences. Those are the civilians we seek to bring in. Any civilian who has a -- any citizen in the United States who has an interest in participating in this activity and are willing to engage in the kinds of training and proficiency requirements clearly that Barbara Morgan and her colleagues have dedicated themselves to, that's where we are about in the selectivity, and the selection process is very difficult, but at the same time, one that all comers are encouraged and admitted by the virtue of the wide diversity of colleagues that Barbara has each day and, I think, as a result of that, I have been (ph) broadened now as a consequence of looking to a wider range of educator mission specialists, serious kind of qualifications.

MODERATOR: Anybody else here have a question? Let's go to -- let me -- let's go back here on the back row and grab Nancy.

QUESTION: Hi, I'm Nancy Holland from KTU. Barbara, you and I have talked a couple of times over the years about how much you wanted this to happen, and I wonder if you can just put -- kind of your emotions into words at this point and, also, perhaps, anything that you may have heard from Christa's mom. I know she was so anxious to see this go on.

MORGAN: I did not personally talk to Grace, but I know some folks at NASA did, and the word got back, and only because I've been involved in this mission, or I definitely would have given Grace a call myself. She is excited and happy, and I'm glad for that. I know she is calling my mom and saying don't let her do it, but -- when NASA asked me if I would come and join the class of 1990, my personal goal was to do a good job so that this opportunity would be open for me -- teachers to come. And, personally I'm really glad that it has happened. I'm pretty happy.

KAGAN: That happy woman is Barbara Morgan, the woman who will be the first teacher in space, was runner up to Christa McAuliffe back in 1986, and of course, we know the story of Christa McAuliffe on board the ill-fated Challenger mission that blew up as it took off back in 1986. So, all these years later, Barbara Morgan, runner up, now the first choice. Let's bring our space correspondent, Miles O'Brien to tell us more about this incredible woman, hanging in all these years.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, she could teach a course in persistence and patience, couldn't she? What is interesting to point out here is, on the first go around back in 1985, when she was training as Christa McAuliffe's understudy, that was the beginning of this age that NASA predicted of civilians routinely traveling to space. The idea was that they could put them through a five, six month quickie training session. They would fly to space, come back, and live to tell great tales about it.

Of course, everything did not unfold as NASA hoped it would. This time around, things are entirely different for Barbara Morgan. Back in 1998 when Dan Golden, then the NASA administrator, announced John Glenn was going to fly, little footnote to that news conference, he also announced on that same day that Barbara Morgan would in fact be joining the astronaut corps as a full-fledged astronaut. She has been training as a full-fledged mission specialist ever since.

KAGAN: This whole time...


KAGAN: For like 12 years?

O'BRIEN: No, no, no. Since '98, made that announcement.


O'BRIEN: She went back to classroom for about dozen years between, but since '98, she moved to Houston, and is doing everything an astronaut would do. So it is a little different training bar, it is a little bit higher. She admittedly will be the first mission specialist to fly in her class of 1998, but you could make a pretty strong case that she is due for a flight.

KAGAN: Absolutely. Now, you know how things work behind the scenes...


KAGAN: ... and you know the politicking that goes on. How much credit that this program stayed in place goes to Barbara Morgan for sticking with it, especially up to '98, saying, You know what, don't forget about me. I still want to do this.

O'BRIEN: You know, it almost -- it kind of gives me goose bumps when I start to think about it because in the days immediately following Challenger, here was such good friends of hers that she trained alongside, Christa in particular. She never broke stride. She went out, and literally did the tour which had been booked for Christa McAuliffe, post-flight, and went out and proselytized for NASA, and said we have to stay the course. Let's continue this mission. This mission was important. We all knew the risks. Christa knew the risks. It is important to reach kids in this way.

And so, yes, I have to give her a lot of credit for staying the course, sticking to her guns, even when she went back to Idaho to teach for a dozen years, she still worked with NASA in their education department, kept the dream alive. So, there is a lesson in there for kids right there. Long before she ever flies, there's a lesson.

KAGAN: Keep the persistence going. She still has some more time. I mean, 2004, she is not going for a couple years here.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is couple years, but that is fairly typical for a mission to the space station. She is going -- they will start naming a crew, manifesting and all that sort of thing. So the point I think NASA is trying to make here is that this is not just hop on the shuttle and go take a ride. It is somewhat in response to the fact that we are seeing civilians visit the space station from the Russian side. NASA realizes that this is coming. This event is sort of happening whether they like it or not, so to speak.

And so this is first step toward NASA sort of opening the doors once again. The wounds from Challenger are still, you know, there. And they should be. They should never forget it. And as a result, they have been reluctant to bring this idea of bringing civilians back. But before any civilian can visit the space station via NASA, Barbara Morgan gets a flight, and that is the way it should be.

KAGAN: So we'll do teacher in space, then we'll do journalist in space, and you will do your first interview with us.

O'BRIEN: My ears are ringing. Yes, absolutely.

KAGAN: Your bags are packed, ready to go.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. It will be on your program first, I promise you that.

KAGAN: You heard that. You heard that. Now, meanwhile, other work to do today, there's space walk taking place today. .

O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, up in space, 250 miles above us...

KAGAN: We are going to talk about it...

O'BRIEN: We'll talk about that a little later.

KAGAN: Tell us what they are doing.

O'BRIEN: They are just about to depressurize. Basically, they are going to go out and install some floodlights and some work stands and so forth. But the big story is Jerry Ross, this grandfather, is about to -- he is about to enter into his ninth space walk. Every time he moves in space, he sets a record. So, it is interesting. A pair of grandfathers up there, doing their space walk, it is kind of entertaining to see that the older generation is having fun too.

KAGAN: He is kind of like the Cal Ripken of astronauts.

O'BRIEN: That is a good way of putting it.

KAGAN: Very good. You can use it.

O'BRIEN: All right.

KAGAN: All right. We'll see you in a bit.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: You know, he promised Kyra the same thing.

KAGAN: Did he?

HARRIS: Yes. First time I'm up there, first interview, you.

O'BRIEN: She does the first weekend thing.

KAGAN: All right.

HARRIS: All right. This guy is a politician.

KAGAN: We'll make sure the shuttle takes off during the week. We'll see you in a bit.

O'BRIEN: All right, see you.




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