CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- With the widows of three of the Challenger astronauts looking on, NASA launched a program Tuesday to recruit more teachers as astronauts and get more youngsters interested in science and math.
"One of the things I'm going to say when I'm in space is what I'm going to say right now to all of you students and teachers," said educator-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who was the backup for Christa McAuliffe on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986. "I'm going to say, 'Come on up. We want you to follow us.'"
Morgan, 51, will fly to the international space station in November aboard Columbia, the shuttle now circling Earth on a 16-day research mission. She quit her Idaho teaching job in 1998 to move to Houston and join NASA's astronaut corps.
NASA plans to choose three to six teachers for its next astronaut class, the Class of 2004, and launch at least one of them a year beginning in late 2005 or early 2006. The educator-astronauts will be eligible for multiple space shuttle flights and even long stays aboard the international space station.
The widows of Challenger's commander, Dick Scobee, and astronauts Ronald McNair and Gregory Jarvis were in the audience at Hardy Middle School in Washington as NASA put out the call for more educator-astronauts. NASA broadcast the event live on television and the Internet.
Adena Loston, NASA's education chief, said McAuliffe's husband, Steven, a federal judge, wanted desperately to attend Tuesday's ceremony but had four cases pending. McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, flew to Washington but arrived too late for the event.
NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said the space agency wants to recruit more teachers like Morgan, who has a biology degree from Stanford University and taught second and third grade.