When the Teacher in Space finalists were announced in 1985, it was big news in my hometown of Boise, Idaho. Barabara Morgan, a third grade teacher from the small town of McCall, was chosen to be Crista McAuliff's backup. My high school science teacher, Mr. David Marquart, was also one of 10 finalists. Two Idaho teachers had been picked from over 10,000 applicants. I still remember sitting in class, listening to Mr. Marquart describe his experience and the videos of "floating" during zero-gravity training.
Next month, after a 20-year wait, Barbara Morgan is scheduled to fly her first mission as NASA's Educator Astronaut. The launch is set for August 7th and will be an assemby mission to the International Space Station. In 1998, Morgan was selected as a misson specialist and is now a fully trained astronaut. At heart, however, she is a teacher and hopes to eventually go back to the classroom. Here are some of Barbara Morgan's answers from a recent pre-flight interview. Read the entire interview here. You can also listen to Barbara Morgan on NPR's All Things Considered. She is an amazing inspiration and role model.
Kids always love spaceflight. What should they pay particular
attention to on your flight? What should they be looking for? And
ultimately, what do you think they’re going to learn from this mission?
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.
If you looked up the word “perseverance” in the dictionary, you see a picture of Barbara Morgan next to the word. You truly are a portrait of perseverance. You’ve stuck with this goal to fly as an educator in space for two decades and through two enormous tragedies that have affected you personally. What is it that motivates you? Why have you stuck with this -- over all of this period of time -- to accomplish this singular goal?
Well, can I go back to the first part of, of your question? And, that’s about perseverance. That’s what describes teachers. They have patience and they have perseverance. That’s what allows them to do their job so well. And that’s what teachers have. I can’t think of anything more important to all of us than our kids and their future. And to me, space exploration is all about open-ended, never-ending opportunities for our young people. That’s what my motivation has been, to help keep the world of opportunities open for our kids.
Your crew patch has a lot of symbolism affixed to it. One of the things that I noticed almost immediately was an object that looks very much like an Olympic torch next to your name. What is it? What does it represent?
I’m really glad you asked about our patch, because it’s something I’m very proud of. I think we all are. That is the flame of knowledge, that torch that carries the flame of knowledge. If you look closely at the patch, you’ll see the trajectory or the orbit that the shuttle is taking as it circles around the astronaut symbol that’s going up to the International Space Station and beyond. That orbit emanates from that flame of knowledge. It’s education, it’s great education, that propels all of what we’re doing in space exploration and as we learn more about our universe. That’s so important because to us one of the primary purposes of all these missions is gaining knowledge, and it’s gaining knowledge through exploration. The other thing that’s near and dear to our hearts is that flame of knowledge really is there to honor teachers and students everywhere.
Teachers are not exactly the best-paid people in the world. It’s not a profession that people go into thinking they’re going to walk away wealthy. What is it that draws somebody like you to teaching? What is the benefit that you derive from teaching?
Teaching is its own reward. People who go into teaching and stay with it, go into it and stay with it because it is its own reward. It’s challenging. It’s inspiring. It’s invigorating. And, it’s rewarding to create an environment where you are trying to help every single individual in that environment come together as a family and also reach his or her best, greatest potential. It’s an enormous responsibility, it’s an enormous challenge and it’s enormously rewarding.
You’re sort of a recruiting poster for education. But for people who are either about to go off to college or are in college or are not quite certain about what they want to do for a profession, why would somebody want to be a teacher? What is the lure for somebody who might consider education as a profession?
We depend on the future, and the future is those kids who go to school every day. We need teachers. We need folks who want to and are motivated and inspired to go in and do the challenging, hard work and rewarding work of helping people reach their full potential. So I would say, "Go for it! You’ll love it!"