In creating a list of links related to NASA, space exploration, and Mars today (for some teachers and students making videoconference connections next week with NASA’s Digital Learning Network) I discovered that NASA’s STS-118 mission is scheduled to launch in August 2007 with the first teacher in space: Barbara Morgan.

Barbara Morgan

Barbara Morgan was the backup candidate for the original NASA Teacher in Space Project, which ended tragically on January 28, 1986 in the Challenger accident. Morgan trained with Christa McAuliffe and returned to teaching in Idaho after the Challenger disaster, but resumed work for NASA again in August 1998.

I shared with 3rd grade students yesterday (in the context of NASA and their upcoming videoconferences) that in 1986, when the Challenger accident happened, I was sitting in Mrs. Bogart’s World History class at Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas. I remember that time vividly, just as I remember the launch of the first space shuttle (Columbia) on April 12, 1981 when I was in fifth grade at Warden Carden Elementary school in Columbus, Mississippi. Our entire school gathered in the cafeteria to watch the launch. It was a powerful experience which left a lasting impression on me.

Certain events brand themselves into our consciousness like that. Similar to the Challenger disaster, I think most people who were alive when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas can remember where they were and what they were doing at that moment. I was not alive, but my mother has told me her vivid memory of that day: She was teaching 1st grade in Mesquite, Texas (near Dallas) on that fateful Friday, and heard the news over the radio when she was supervising her students play outside at recess. Other tragic events which have similarly burned a lasting memory into my mind were 1993 Waco Siege with the Branch Davidians, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. Respectively, I was in Mexico City working out at the embassy gym in ’93 when I heard about Waco, serving as a high school teacher aide in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people (just 2 blocks from where I now work in Oklahoma City), and teaching elementary school in 1999 when the Columbine tragedy took place. I hope there are not many more tragic events like these which become lifelong memories for me. Instead of tragic, hopefully there will be more triumphant memorable events, like the Apollo 11 moon landing, which I was just a little too young to witness. :-)

The day after the Columbine tragedy, I was working with a class of 1st graders and their teacher in our school computer lab. I vividly remember realizing that day what a small world we live in, and how small mainstream media has made it. Most of the 1st graders did not know where Columbine was, or where Colorado was, or how far Colorado was from their hometown of Lubbock, Texas, but they knew that the day before students at a school had been killed, and they were scared. The Virginia Tech massacre just last month is likely a similar “indelible memory” for many people around the United States, especially those directly affected by the tragedy.

Space travel is certainly dangerous, and there are no guarantees. I do hope the STS-118 mission will be a safe and successful one! According to the current WikiPedia page for Barbara Morgan, she:

… will teach some of the same lessons that McAuliffe was supposed to teach more than 20 years ago, but as part of a wider curriculum.

Godspeed STS-118!

To learn more about the mission and Barbara Morgan, read this preflight interview with her posted to NASA’s website. In response to a question about what kids should be watching for in this mission, Barbara said:

You’re going to laugh at this, but what I really want them to do is to pay attention to themselves and to look very deep within themselves and dig up all the questions that they can that they have about our world, our universe, and about space exploration. Because this is all about learning, and we’re here to help and we want to know from them — what is it that they really want to know and learn? Because this is their future and it’s open-ended for them. I also hope that they’ll see an ordinary person doing the things that they can be doing. It’s all about learning and exploring, and we want them to come with us.

Amen! The future is open ended. Let’s write some outstanding new chapters together!

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  • http://www.learningismessy.com/blog Brian Crosby

    Wes – Your readers could check this out too. It’s the vidcasts of Grace Corrigan (Christa McAullife’s mom) when she was a guest in my classroom last month. We were told not to ask questions about Barbara because Grace is great friends with her and she is not in support of Barbara going this time – she feels that if something happens to Barbara it will be a second devastating blow to students.
    http://learningismessy.com/blog/?p=267

    Brian

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Great, thanks Brian!

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