Teacher in Space Program

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Teacher in Space Program

The Teacher in Space Program began as an extension of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Space Flight Participation Program, which was designed to open space shuttle flight opportunities to a broader segment of private citizens. In August 1984 President Ronald Reagan announced that a teacher would be chosen as the first private citizen to fly into space aboard a space shuttle. During the application period (from December 1, 1984, to February 1, 1985) more than 11,000 teachers applied.

By June 1985, NASA had chosen 114 semifinalists to be the first teacher in space. This selection included two teachers from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the territories and trusts of the United States. These candidates attended a workshop and orientation program in Washington, D.C., in June 1985. Later, a review panel chosen by NASA and the Council of Chief State School Officers selected ten finalists. They reported to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for medical exams, interviews, and briefings. The NASA administrator and an evaluation committee made the final selection of the teacher who would fly and an alternate to serve as a backup.

On July 19, 1985, after the exhaustive selection process, Vice President George H. W. Bush announced NASA's final selection at a White House ceremony. Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a high school economics and history teacher in Concord, New Hampshire, was selected from among the ten finalists to fly for the Teacher in Space Program, and Barbara Radding Morgan, a third-grade teacher in McCall, Idaho, was selected as the alternate. McAuliffe and Morgan began their astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center in September in preparation for the space shuttle mission 51L, which was scheduled for launch in January 1986.

McAuliffe was to conduct two live television teaching lessons, which were to be broadcast from the space shuttle Challenger. The lessons involved experiments designed to demonstrate the effects of microgravity in space on magnetism, Newton's laws, effervescence, and simple machines.

Tragedy Strikes the Program

On January 28, 1986, Morgan was on the ground at Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the Teacher in Space backup for the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, which carried a crew of seven, including McAuliffe. Tragically, an explosion of the Challenger spacecraft one minute and thirteen seconds after liftoff claimed the lives of the entire crew.

After the disaster, the shuttle program and the Teacher in Space Program were put on hold while the agency investigated and recovered from the disaster. Following the space shuttle's return to flight in September 1988, periodic informal meetings were held on the status of the Teacher in Space Program. Given the hundreds of modifications made to the shuttle system as a result of the accident, NASA mangers agreed to defer serious consideration of resuming the Teacher in Space Program until all of the redesigned systems were properly validated.

Senior NASA officials held two formal reviews of the program in 1993 and 1994, but they reached no decision. Morgan remained the Teacher in Space designee. She underwent annual astronaut physicals and, until cutting back to spend more time in the classroom, traveled one week a month on education and public relations duties for the space agency.

News that astronaut-turned-senator John Glenn would return to space aboard a shuttle flight in 1998 reopened a wide-ranging public debate about flying noncareer astronauts in space. The debate included the status of Morgan, who had remained the Teacher in Space designee since 1986 even though the Teacher in Space Program and all discussion of flying civilians in space remained on hold.

On January 16, 1998, ten months before John Glenn was due to return to space, NASA announced that Morgan would report for training as a mission specialist with the seventeenth group of astronaut candidates selected by the space agency. In making this announcement, NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said, "One of the issues I personally had with the civilian-in-space program was the lack of full training. That is why [Morgan] is going to become a fully trained mission specialist." Morgan completed initial training and became a member of the astronaut corps based at Johnson Space Center in Texas. In April 2002 NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe announced the new Educator Mission Specialist Program. Barbara Morgan, the backup Teacher in Space candidate, will be the first educator mission specialist, and she is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station shortly after the construction of the core station is completed. She is expected to go to space in 2004 or 2005.

see also Astronauts, Types of (volume 3); Challenger (volume 3); Challenger 7 (volume 3); Mission Specialists (volume 3); Space Shuttle (volume 3); Women in Space (volume 3).

Frank R. Mignone


Ellis, Lee A. Who's Who of NASA Astronauts. New York: Americana Group Publishing, 2001.

Internet Resources

Dumoulin, Jim. STS 51-L, The Challenger Mission Report. 2001. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Kennedy Space Center. <http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/mission-51-l.html>.

"Astronaut Biography: Morgan, Barbara R." 2000. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Johnson Space Center. <http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/morgan.html>.

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