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Barbara Morgan, Educator Turned Astronaut

Each night on the space shuttle Endeavour, Barbara Morgan would float near a window and marvel at the earth. At the city lights of Africa. At flickering yellow storms above the Indian Ocean. At our small, small place in a truly immense universe. "My first surprise was how black space really is," says Morgan, 56, recalling her August 2007 mission. "Pictures don't capture the depth and breadth of the color. It's the softest, smoothest, creamiest black." That Morgan ever enjoyed such a view is a testament to her galaxy-size dreams. In 1984 she was one of 11,000 eager applicants for NASA's new Teacher in Space program—"I want to get some stardust on me," she had written the space agency. Only two candidates were chosen. One was Morgan, an Idaho elementary-school teacher. The other was an upbeat teacher from New Hampshire named Christa McAuliffe. After the 1986 Challenger disaster, Morgan became one of NASA's most vocal supporters, promoting space exploration and believing that children should learn from the tragedy, that we respond to adversity in life with courage and determination, not fear. And so, too, did Morgan remain determined to reach space. In 1998, more than ten years after she'd returned to her Idaho classroom, NASA selected her to join its astronaut training program in Houston. This time she would be not only an educator but a full-fledged astronaut. Yet her true mission, she believes, is to stir students' passion for science, and to encourage the stars in their eyes: "I want all of our students and teachers to get some stardust on them."

 

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