08 August 2007

Endeavour launch successful

In 1985, Mrs Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a social-studies teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, was selected by NASA for the Teacher in Space Program. After training, she took off from Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986 aboard the space shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L). Minutes later, she was dead, along with the other six members of Challenger's crew*, after the shuttle exploded.**

Mrs Barbara R Morgan, a grade-school teacher in McCall, Idaho, was selected as McAuliffe's backup. She continued to work with NASA after Challenger's loss, and in 1998 was selected as NASA's first educator mission specialist, becoming a full-time astronaut. (Three more educator mission specialists - Joseph M Acaba, Richard Arnold and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger - were added to NASA's ranks in 2004.)

Shuttle Endeavour launched this evening (40 minutes ago as I write this) on its 20th flight, as mission STS-118, and Morgan was on board, making her first flight 22 years after initially being selected for the programme.

ZUI this article from Bloomberg.com:
NASA's shuttle Endeavour launched from Florida this evening, marking its first flight in five years and the start of an 11-day mission to expand the International Space Station.

The ship blasted off at 6:36 p.m. local time from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. It should reach the space station in two days, where the Endeavour's crew will deliver a truss to support solar panels and an external platform to stow equipment.

Aboard the Endeavour are six career astronauts and a former schoolteacher who has waited two decades to fly. Barbara Morgan, 55, was the backup for NASA's ``Teacher in Space'' program. The agency suspended the program in 1986 when the shuttle Challenger exploded just after liftoff, killing seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.

This article from the Beeb provides more information:

The US space shuttle Endeavour has embarked on an 11 to 14 day assembly mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The shuttle blasted off as planned at 2336 BST (1836 EDT) on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission is the second of four that Nasa plans to fit in this year.

The space agency is pressing to finish building the $100bn (£49.1bn) space station before the ageing shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

With Morgan aboard Endeavour are commander Scott J Kelly, pilot Charles O Hobaugh, and mission specialists Tracy E Caldwell, Richard A Mastracchio, Dafydd R Williams and B Alvin Drew Jr.

There are only 12 more space shuttle flights scheduled before the fleet is retired. The next two are STS-120 (shuttle Discovery), on 20 October, and STS-122 (Atlantis), on 6 December.

* Francis "Dick" Scobee, Michael J Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair and Gregory Jarvis.

** I was the on-watch RMOW when we came up to PD a few hours later and started receiving all the SAR traffic.

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