Leaders of the Teachers in Space program are advocating that NASA send up more educators on space shuttle flights following the successful flight mission of the agency’s first astronaut educator, Barbara Morgan.

“NASA has taken the first step toward keeping the commitment it made to education more than 20 years ago, but it’s only the first step,” Edward Wright, Teachers in Space project manager, said in an Aug. 22 press release. “We call on NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to immediately announce flight dates for the next three Educator Astronauts – Joe Acaba, Ricky Arnold and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger.”

NASA established the Teachers in Space program in 1984, but dissolved the project following the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident that killed the seven-astronaut crew along with Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher selected to fly aboard the shuttle. In the 1990s NASA developed the Educator Astronaut Program, which trains teachers to become full-fledged astronauts.

In the meantime, Teachers in Space has been recreated by the Space Frontier Foundation and the United States Rocket Academy to fly teachers aboard suborbital passenger vehicles developed by commercial companies.

Morgan took

time out of

her work on the international space station (ISS) to answer questions from school children

in Virginia and Idaho.

Morgan and her STS-118 crewmates were in the midst of a busy construction flight, delivering a massive new spare parts platform to the ISS.

“I’ve been involved with NASA for over 20 years,” Morgan said Aug. 16 while answering questions from

students at

the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, V

a., adding that her professional astronaut training officially began nine years ago. “One of my jobs, and one I think I like the best, is getting to be one of the robotic arm operators.”

Students asked Morgan how difficult it is to eat without gravity, how she slept in space and what protected the ISS and Endeavour from asteroids and space debris.

“We have a lot of protection on board both the shuttle and the station,” Morgan said as she described the station’s armored metal plates.

By coincidence, Endeavour commander Scott Kelly reported finding a tiny,

1 millimeter nick in one of the orbiter’s forward facing flight deck windows earlier

Aug. 16. But the miniscule scuff, located on the outermost layer of a three-panel thick window, posed no threat to the shuttle or its crew, NASA said.

Morgan said

sleeping in space is quite comfortable, but swallowing food was a challenge at first, primarily because it was odd not having gravity to pull it down to her stomach, she added.

Later that day,

Morgan made a hometown call from orbit

, radioing students at her former teaching grounds


After one thwarted attempt due to orbital mechanics, Morgan successfully reached students at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho, where she taught English and mathematics before joining NASA’s astronaut corps.

“We miss McCall a whole bunch and look forward to coming down some time and answering more questions, and sharing this whole experience,” Morgan told the students via a ham radio signal. Ham radio operator Tony Hutchinson of South Australia relayed her words to McCall-Donnelly students.

Earlier in the week, Morgan

and her crewmates discussed their STS-118 spaceflight and answered questions for students at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise.

“Well, astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing. We explore, we discover and we share,” Morgan said Aug. 14 when asked about her dual role. “The great thing about being a teacher is you get to do that with students, and the great thing about being an astronaut is you get to do it in space. And both are absolutely wonderful jobs.”

Joining Morgan in the broadcast were fellow Endeavour astronauts Dave Williams, Alvin Drew

and ISS flight engineer Clayton Anderson. Together they answered questions ranging from the visible effects of global warming from space and how stars appear out the space station’s windows.

“When we look outside, it’s very much like trying to look at stars in Boise,” Morgan

said in an


to one question, adding that the lights on the ISS and Endeavour are very bright. “You can see some, but then if you go up high in the mountains up to McCall and you have all the lights out, that’s what it’ll be like once we undock from station and turn all our lights out.”

Morgan originally joined NASA in 1985 as the agency’s backup to Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe before the tragic Challenger accident in January 1986. McAuliffe

had planned to teach a class lesson from space. NASA recalled Morgan from her teaching post in 1998 to train as a full-fledged mission specialist and educator astronaut.

Morgan has said she hopes to return to teaching

in Idaho once her work as an astronaut is complete.


their space broadcasts, Morgan and her crewmates delivered a massive new spare parts platform to the ISS.

Dubbed the External Stowage Platform-3

, the exposed hardware depot weighs about

3,175 kilograms

and has space for seven major ISS components. The platform is stocked with a battery charging unit, a spare robotic arm joint and a nitrogen tank assembly for the station’s cooling system and was stowed on the Port 3 truss segment of the orbital laboratory.

Morgan and STS-118 mission specialist Tracy Caldwell removed

the new spare parts platform from

payload bay with the orbiter’s robotic arm, then handed it off to the station’s own robotic appendage, wielded by shuttle pilot Charlie Hobaugh for final installation.

The ability to store large components, especially those only NASA shuttles can carry, is vital for the ISS as the space agency prepares to retire its three aging orbiters in September 2010, mission managers said.

“Each time we bring spares on board, we’re getting ready for shuttle retirement,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s lead ISS flight director for Endeavour’s STS-118 flight, told reporters Aug. 13

. “So this is just another step in that preparation.”