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MESSENGER to Enter Mercury's Orbit to Find Clues to the Mysteries of the Planet

Mercury mission coincides with journey of New Horizons as it crosses the orbit of Uranus

by Catherine McNiff

Image of Mercury from MESSENGER Flyby

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In 1985, New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected to become the first representative of NASA's Teacher in Space Program. McAuliffe, who was chosen over 11,000 other applicants, was set to teach lessons via a video link from space and act as a payload specialist on the 1986 mission of the shuttle Challenger. Tragically, the shuttle disintegrated shortly after takeoff, and all crew members were killed. Shocked and saddened by the disaster, McAfuliffe's backup for that flight, Barbra Morgan, refused to let the Teacher in Space Program--or her own dreams of one day flying into space—die.

Morgan Makes Long-Term Commitment to NASA

Morgan left her teaching job in Idaho in 1998 to become NASA's first Educator Astronaut. She makes public speaking appearances and works with other educators to develop space-related curriculum. She has also trained as a spacecraft communicator, which allowed her to be directly involved in a number of shuttle missions. She was assigned to spaceflight STS-118 in 2002, but disaster struck once again in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, and all space flights were halted for the next two years.

Hard Work Pays Off

Morgan finally received her chance to become the first teacher in space on August 8, 2007, aboard the shuttle I. The mission will take Morgan and her fellow crew members to the International Space Station, where additional trusses will be added and supplies delivered. Morgan will work the shuttle's robot arm during the addition of the new trusses and will teach at least one lesson from space. While it may have taken over 20 years, NASA has finally achieved its goal of sending a teacher to space. The feat is likely to inspire adults and children from all over the world, showing that in the face of adversity, persistence pays off.

Space ExplorationTo the Moon and Mars

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
The United States purchased the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million on Dec. 20, 1803.

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