Space Teacher Set For Liftoff

In this undated photo released by the Klickitat County Sheriff Office, Phillip Arnold Paul is searched by authorities after his arrest, in Washington.
AP Photo/Klickitat County Sheriff
NASA is sending teacher Barbara Morgan into space earlier than expected next year to carry on the mission of Christa McAuliffe, who was killed in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Thursday that Morgan was now scheduled for a space shuttle flight in November 2003 to the international space station. She had been slated for 2004.

"Mark your calendar," O'Keefe said at the Maryland Science Center. "Eleven months from now we will see an opportunity of a lifetime."

Morgan will fly on the space shuttle Columbia, scheduled to lift off Nov. 13 for an 11-day mission to install equipment to increase power and communications to the space station

"This is a great day," said Morgan, decked in a bright blue NASA jumpsuit.

NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown said Morgan's assignment was moved up because "the opportunity presented itself; the skill mix was there and she was assigned a flight."

Morgan was joined Thursday by the commander of her shuttle flight, Scott Kelly, who served as a pilot of a flight in 1999. Kelly said he was excited about the opportunity to fly with Morgan because she's more than a good teacher - she's a good astronaut.

"From my perspective, we have a mission specialist in the flight that happens to be a teacher," he said.

Morgan, 51, was selected in 1985 as the backup to McAuliffe for the Teacher in Space Program. After the Challenger exploded in January 1986, killing McAuliffe and six other astronauts, Morgan returned to teaching at McCall Elementary School in Idaho, although she continued to speak at schools about NASA's work.

The space agency tapped her in 1998 for astronaut training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She has worked in Mission Control as a communicator with astronauts in space.

By Angela Potter