Cape Canaveral (AFP) Aug 09, 2007
The US space shuttle Endeavour orbited Earth on Thursday, carrying the first teacher in space 21 years after the Challenger explosion ended the dreams of another "educator astronaut." "Class is in session," a NASA mission control spokesman said after the external fuel tank separated from the shuttle and the Endeavour entered its preliminary orbit less than nine minutes into the flight.
Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, 55, is the star of the second shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this year, as the space agency NASA seeks to burnish an image tainted by recent stories of drunken and love-crazed astronauts.
Morgan's chance to reach orbit came at last with Endeavour's launch at 6:36 pm (2236 GMT) Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. By early Thursday morning the shuttle had some 1,350 miles (2,170 kilometers) still to go on its flight to the orbiting station, NASA said in a broadcast.
As the shuttle roared into the sky, mission control declared Morgan was "racing toward space on the wings of a legacy."
NASA called it a "flawless" lift-off. "A launch operation doesn't get any better than this," the agency's administrator Mike Griffin said afterward.
The shuttle is due to reach the ISS on Friday at 1753 GMT.
First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher herself, called Morgan on Tuesday to offer congratulations from "one school teacher to another."
Morgan had trained as a back up to fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe for the 1986 Challenger shuttle mission.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had hoped that sending a teacher into space would fire the imaginations of millions and keep up support for its shuttle program.
But on January 28, 1986, Challenger exploded 73 seconds after blast-off, killing all seven aboard, including McAuliffe, and delaying for two decades Morgan's own aspirations to carry out a mission with the elite astronaut corps.
"I know people will be looking at this and remembering Challenger, and that's a good thing," Morgan said in an interview released by NASA.
"Christa was, is, and always will be our 'Teacher in Space,' our first teacher to fly" in a shuttle, she said.
"She truly knew what this was all about -- not just bringing the world to her classroom, but also helping ... to show the world what teachers do."
After the Challenger disaster Morgan went back to teaching, and then rejoined the astronaut corps in 1998.
Once in space she will operate robotic arms on the ISS and the shuttle to unload and install new equipment and supplies on the space station.
In her role as "educator astronaut" she is also due to answer questions from school children in a broadcast from the station.
Endeavour is taking seven astronauts on an 11-day mission to continue the expansion of the ISS, an orbiting laboratory that NASA considers a key part of its space exploration ambitions and a stepping stone for exploring Mars.
The mission will carry a truss section about the size of a small car to extend the space station to a length of 108 meters (354 feet) -- about the size of a football pitch.
The astronauts will also replace a defective gyroscope, one of four keeping the space station on an even keel, and install an external stowage platform.
Astronauts will venture out of the ISS on three spacewalks to complete assembly and repair tasks.
NASA could prolong the mission by three days to include a fourth space walk, to prepare for installation of a boom that will allow crews to inspect for potential damage to the shuttle's heat shield.
NASA has been wary of damage to shuttle heat shields since February 2003, when a broken thermal tile led to the disintegration of shuttle Columbia on re-entry, killing all seven aboard and putting the shuttle program on hold for two and a half years.
NASA finally resumed ISS construction missions last year after conducting two missions aimed at improving safety, but the space agency has been hit by earthly scandals ever since.
Earlier this year, astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested and charged with attempting to kidnap a woman dating another married astronaut. She has since been fired from NASA.
NASA also set up a panel to review astronauts' health after reports that astronauts had turned up for missions drunk.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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NASA Launches Space Shuttle Endeavour For Station Teach-In
Washington (AFP) Aug 08, 2007
Space Shuttle Endeavour was blasted off early Wednesday evening sending the first teacher into space 21 years after the Challenger explosion tragically ended the dream of another pioneering teacher. Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, 55, has become the star of the second shuttle mission to the International Space Station this year. Weather conditions were perfect and all other countdown procedures went smoothly allowing an on time lift off at 6:36 pm (2236 GMT) Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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