Barbara Morgan chats with students from space station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 16, 2007
The Endeavour astronauts are content to follow the guidance of mission control when it comes to a divot in the shuttle's heat shield. Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan said today "we have a lot of faith in the program and we'll do what the engineers decide is the best thing for us to do. We have all confidence we're going to be able to do the right thing."
"We've been talking to the engineers who have been analyzing this far more than we have in space and they seem to feel that the biggest danger is more to just being able to reuse Endeavour once it's back on the ground," he said. "They seem to be confident, and I trust their confidence, that we can get home safely even with the divot that we have in the belly."
NASA's Mission Management Team is expected to make a decision today on whether to order a repair spacewalk Saturday or whether to bring Endeavour down as is. This status report will be updated as soon as the decision is announced.
Despite the heat shield problem, the memory of the 1986 Challenger disaster and the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia, Morgan said she would give NASA's manned orbiter an A plus.
"This work is incredibly challenging," she said, floating with Drew in the international space station's Destiny laboratory module. Given the sheer complexity of the project, "I think the shuttle program is an A plus. You know, once we don't have the shuttle any more I think it's going to be something that we all look back on with great nostalgia and we're really, really going to miss it. ISS (international space station) is a fantastic vehicle, it's a stepping stone to the future and I quite frankly can't wait until we get back to the moon for the long haul and then onto Mars."
Earlier today, Morgan and Drew fielded questions from students at a Challenger Center for Space Science Education in Alexandria, Va., the second of three educational events planned for Endeavour's mission. Today's session held special significance for Morgan because the event was hosted by June Scobee Rodgers, founding chairman of the Challenger centers and widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee. Morgan was Christa McAuliffe's backup in the original Teacher in Space program and trained with the Challenger astronauts.
"Congratulations to the entire Endeavour crew," Rodgers radioed. "Thank you for the downlink to the Challenger Center. Barb, we've been standing by, waiting for your signal from space for 21 years!"
Morgan said later that "hearing June's voice anytime is a real pleasure. It made me so happy to know the Challenger Center was there, that we had a chance to speak with the kids this morning, that June was there leading the charge as always. It's in our hearts and it's wonderful."
Morgan and Drew demonstrated how astronauts live in weightlessness, showing how soap and shampoo are used, displaying an astronaut sleeping bag and inadvertently releasing a large blob of water in the Destiny laboratory module. Veteran space aficionados cringed, but the release had no apparent impact.
In one of the more interesting exchanges, a student asked if the astronauts could see constellations in space from their lofty perch above Earth's atmosphere.
"You know, initially when we first came up here, both the space shuttle and the space station were both very lit up, almost like a small city, and it made it tough to see anything," Drew said. "Actually, I had an easier time seeing stars in Houston. Last night, we turned out all the lights on both the shuttle and the station, looked out the window and it as a glorious sight out there. You could see the entire Milky Way, you could see the dust clouds of the Milky Way, I think Barb even saw a shooting star beneath us last night. We saw thunder storms over the world, it was pretty fabulous, you could make out all the constellations in the sky."
"It was interesting," Morgan said, "it started out in the orbit we were in, we were at night time and we were looking out at the night sky and all the things Al just described we could see. We were traveling over Africa at the time, but looking out at the night sky. And then as we got to the Indian Ocean, it was black, black, black and that's where we saw all the thunderstorms. And I don't think any of us had ever seen anything quite that bright, those flashes of light.
"And then off in the distance, in another, say, 20 minutes or so, a thin blue line started appearing. And that blue line got thicker and thicker, it started to get a little blurred and all these different colors of blue were in that line and we realized we were looking at the horizon with the sunrise coming and we could see layers of cloud in that horizon. Within just a few minutes, our faces were totally lit up and the space station was shimmering, the solar arrays were just like the orange filaments in your toaster, they were just shimmering, bright, bright, bright gold. It was a beautiful sight."
Later, Drew, a veteran military helicopter pilot making his first space flight, described what it's like to blast off aboard a shuttle for Idaho Public Television:
"There was no doubt when the solid rocket boosters lit, it was just like being inside of a washing machine that was in a bad spin cycle. There was a pretty good shake going up the whole way, just a tremendous amount of sheer fun. We knew we were heading off the planet! There was a big thump when the solid rocket boosters left the orbiter and then it was a much smoother ride from there on up but the Gs started picking up. It felt like there was something heavy standing on my chest. ... It took effort to breathe the whole time. In fact, I kind of felt myself wheezing for the last few minutes as we were going through three Gs. And then suddenly we went from 3 Gs to nothing, I felt my body just slam against the shoulder straps of the seat, it was almost like we recoiled off the back of the seat and we were weightless. I want to find another quarter to put back in there and go for another ride!"