By Marcia Dunn
Thursday, August 9, 2007
CAPE CANAVERAL, Aug. 8 -- The space shuttle Endeavour roared into orbit Wednesday carrying teacher-astronaut Barbara R. Morgan, who was finally fulfilling the dream of Christa McAuliffe and the rest of the fallen Challenger crew.
Endeavour and its crew of seven rose from the seaside pad at 6:36 p.m. They're expected to reach the international space station Friday.
Once Endeavour was safely past the 73-second mark of the flight, the moment when Challenger exploded shortly after the call "Go at throttle up," Mission Control exclaimed: "Morgan racing toward space on the wings of a legacy."
Immediately after the shuttle reached orbit, Mission Control announced: "For Barbara Morgan and her crewmates, class is in session."
Morgan was McAuliffe's backup for Challenger's doomed launch in 1986 and, even after two shuttle disasters, never swayed in her dedication to NASA and the agency's on-and-off quest to send a schoolteacher into space. She rocketed away in the center seat of the cabin's lower compartment, the same seat that had been occupied by McAuliffe.
McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, watched the launch on TV from her home in Massachusetts. "I'm very happy that it went up safely," she said. "We all send her our love," she added, her voice breaking.
More than half of NASA's 114 teacher-in-space nominees in 1985 gathered at the launch site, along with hundreds of other educators, thrilled to see Morgan continue what McAuliffe began.
NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin met Tuesday night with several members of the Challenger astronaut families in town for the launch -- although not the McAuliffe family -- and said they did not seem worried. "They're here to celebrate her having a chance to fly."
Endeavour's liftoff had been scheduled for Tuesday, but last week NASA delayed the flight by a day because a leaky valve in the crew cabin needed to be replaced.
This is Endeavour's first flight since 2002. The shuttle underwent an extensive overhaul and was outfitted with complete satellite navigation, improved main engine monitoring equipment and a new system for transferring power from the station to the shuttle. The extra power will allow the shuttle to remain docked at the space station longer.
Besides Morgan, the crew includes Navy Cmdr. Scott J. Kelly, Marine Lt. Col. Charles O. Hobaugh, the pilot, Richard A. Mastracchio, Tracy E. Caldwell, Air Force Col. Benjamin Alvin Drew Jr., who was born and raised in the District, and Canadian physician Dafydd R. Williams.