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Astronauts Hold Class From Space Station

The teacher-astronaut on board space shuttle Endeavour fulfilled one of NASA's longstanding desires to convene a class from space.

Barbara Morgan spoke with hundreds of school children Tuesday in Boise, Idaho — not far from the elementary school where she taught before joining the astronaut ranks — answering questions about exercise, speed and other topics.

Morgan's trip in space comes 20 years after Christa McAuliffe's fateful Challenger mission. Then, Morgan was the backup for McAuliffe in NASA's Teacher-in-Space program.

Endeavour's three other astronauts joined Morgan's discussion beamed to a class gathered at the Discovery Center in Boise, Idaho.

"We have you loud and clear," the class of 18 suddenly heard Morgan say as she appeared on a massive flat-screen television, her dark brown hair floating like kelp.

"Good afternoon, we're happy to be here with you. This is Al Drew, Clay Anderson, Dave Williams and I'm Barb Morgan and we're ready for your first question. Welcome on board the International Space Station."

Perhaps because it is summer and baseball is the season's pastime, the first question was: "If you threw a baseball in space, how fast would it go?"

Astronaut Clay Anderson pulled out a baseball and demonstrated just how slow a ball could float in space.

For 20 minutes the astronauts took questions from Idaho where Morgan taught school for two decades. She explained what it's like being weightless by lifting two of her fellow astronauts at the same time, and also described how to prepare for a space walk.

Another student with his eyes glued to the television was Hunter Fry, 10. He wanted to know from Morgan: "What are your responsibilities for this mission?"

She answered: "My responsibilities are the robotic arm and a lot of the transfer. We brought up about 150 bags worth of stuff. And we're bringing up lots of science equipment, food and clothing and other supplies."

Like all of the kids there, Frye was nominated by his teacher for his exceptional work in science classes. Afterwards he said among highlights of the experience was watching the astronauts drink juice.

"It reminded me of strawberry juice 'cause it was red. It was all over the place and they were eating it like medicine from a spoon. I thought they would use a straw," said Frye, wearing a yellow polo shirt with a NASA pin plus one of the space station and the shuttle Endeavour.

His dad Steve had tears in his eyes as he talked about his son. "He was the man of the day. It was great!"

Steve Frye remembers when Challenger exploded carrying on board McAuliffe, the first teacher-astronaut. He said his son doesn't yet understand that her backup then was Morgan.

"To them it's a day at the Discovery Center talking with astronauts. But to the rest of us, it's the accumulation of 22 years of hard work to get to this point. And it's not only neat to get the program here but to get the children involved in it," he said. "It's one memory that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."

The Endeavour crew of seven is halfway through its two-week mission to the international space station. They have completed most of their main goals, which included attaching a new truss segment to the space station and replacing a gyroscope that helps control the station's orientation.

Sadie Babits reports from member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sadie Babits
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