|Preflight Interview 2: Barbara Morgan||
Q. This is our interview with Barbara Morgan, Mission Specialist 4 for STS-118. Barbara, welcome. How would you describe STS-118 to the layperson?
Image at right: STS-118 Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan. Photo Credit: NASA
A. An exciting mission would be my first words. We are actually part of one of many stepping-stones, many good stepping-stones, to get on to the moon and Mars. We are an assembly mission, which means we’re going to go to the International Space Station, dock with it, and help complete its construction.
What has to happen for you to consider STS-118 a success?
Oh, gosh! Well, first and foremost, that we come home safely, and that we accomplish all our goals of the mission. And, for me educationally, that we learn all that we can and help figure out how to best engage, actively engage, our students and our teachers in our missions, because it’s exciting stuff for them -- and for us.
What are the objectives of STS-118?
Oh, my goodness …
You’re taking up a truss.
Yeah. We have quite a few objectives. We are taking up what we call the S5 truss or the, “S” stands for starboard; and it’s going to go on the starboard side of the truss that fits across the top of the International Space Station. And, that truss is basically a platform for lots of equipment; first and foremost, our solar arrays for generating energy, collecting energy for the electricity for the station. And we’re taking up what’s called an “ESP.” It’s an external stowage platform, and we’re going to take it and attach it to the outside of the space station. It has lots of spare equipment on it for future uses. In the back of the payload bay, we are carrying up what’s called a SPACEHAB. It’s like a little room; and it’s a pressurized module. It’s going to be filled with bags, just cram-packed with bags, and inside those bags are all kinds of things that we need to transfer over to station. It’s science equipment; it’s working equipment for the space station itself; and food and clothing, things like that, for our station crew members.
What capability will adding the S5 truss add to the space station?
Well, the S5 truss, actually we call it “Stubby,” is a little structural piece. It goes on the end of the piece, as I mentioned, the truss that’s already up there, and provides the next structure for attaching the very last piece on the end of the truss, which is the S6, which holds the solar arrays. So, the S4 has solar arrays on it, and the S6 has solar arrays on it. This is the piece that goes in between.
This mission will also be the first flight of a shuttle that has the station-shuttle power transfer system on it. What is that? What does it mean for station assembly flights?
Well, what that is in simple terms, is a way of using some of the energy on International Space Station and converting it over for us to be able to use it on shuttle so that the shuttle can stay attached to the station for a longer period of time. The shuttle’s energy comes from cryogenics. It’s basically fuel. You can only take up so much with you. You don’t want to run out before you come home. But that limits how long you can stay. Being able to tap into the station’s energy allows us to stay longer so that we can get more accomplished during the mission. It allows us to do four spacewalks for this mission in, instead of three, and it gives us more time to transfer lots more stuff over. It’s interesting to me because while we’re tapping into station energy, the things that we’re doing to help build the space station are actually to provide more energy to the station. So it’s kind of a give and take.
What types of things are you transferring from the shuttle to the station?
We’re taking up quite a bunch of stuff. In fact it’s about 100 hours’ worth of transfer time and many, many, many bags. These bags come in the size of -- I can kind of show it to you -- about a couple of feet by one foot all the way up to what we call five, we call it a five MLE bag. That doesn’t mean anything, but it means that the bag is big enough to hold five of these small bags, and lots of equipment. Some of the equipment we’ll actually be using on board. For example, two of the very large bags have two very large metal structures that are like stanchions that our two spacewalking crew members are going to take and add to the outside of station. It will hold the boom that we take up on the shuttle. The boom is a tool or, or a big piece of equipment that’s used for us to do inspections of the bottom of the orbiter for hits or holes in the thermal protection system. So these two pieces will help hold that boom in its stowage location. We’re also taking up things like communication equipment, spacewalking tools and equipment like that. We’re taking up food; we’re taking up clothing; and we’re taking up some of the medical kits to refurbish the medical equipment that they have on board the station. So, those are just examples of the many kinds of things that we take up. Basically, it’s what the crew needs to get the work done, and to live.
Let’s talk about the timeline in the flight. After you launch, there’s approach and docking. What’s your job during approach and docking to the International Space Station?
Well my first job as we’re getting ready to approach and dock, the earlier part, when we’re rendezvousing, a couple of us will be setting up all of our photo-TV equipment to make sure that we’re able to document everything that we’re doing. And part of that is actually taking photographs, kind of mapping out the space station as we get closer and closer to it, because it’s the way our ground team can keep track of how the space station is doing, how the materials are doing and the general condition of the station. Then as we get a little closer Dave Williams and I will be working the docking mechanism. That’s the big ring that sits in the payload bay, and it’s the part that the station actually attaches to the shuttle. It has to be in a certain configuration. We’ve got to get it up and running. So, we basically turn everything on; we maneuver it to the position it’s supposed to be in to be able to dock. And then, as we’re getting very close, we keep monitoring the systems, the feedback from that system display. It’s not all of it, but some of it displays on our computers on board, and the ground team gets a lot of the displays as well. And so we’re making sure that it stays in the configuration that it’s supposed to be in for docking. Then when we dock we finish with the rest of the systems, because it’s got a hook and it’s got a latch, and then it the ring itself retracts so that the, so that it brings the station and the shuttle closer together and gets a tight seal.
After you dock and the hatches are open, you get right to work on handing off the S5 truss. Why do you hand off the S5 truss so soon after Endeavour docks?
That’s a good question. There is so much to get accomplished and we only have so much time. The S5 truss is just one of many things that need to be done. But that’s, that’s the way the timeline fits. We hit the ground or we hit the space running, and we don’t stop until we land.
So, you’ll be glad to have those extra days on orbit to get those tasks done if the station-shuttle power—
Oh, yes. We definitely need those extra days to get everything accomplished, so, we’re looking forward to that.
Before you dock, I want to back up just a moment. There are some inspections and surveys of the orbiter. What’s your role during those inspections, and why are those inspections necessary?
First of all that’s on Flight Day 2. We take the shuttle robotic arm and we reach across the bay and grab the boom and we pull the boom out. On the end of the boom, there’s a sensor package. In other words, there’s a series of lasers out there and cameras. We use the robotic arm, with that boom on the end of it, and basically look at the whole leading edge of the wings and the nose of the orbiter, and do what we call a survey of the orbiter to make sure that we haven’t taken any kind of hits of any sort that would cause us a problem for entry, like on Columbia. So that’s the purpose, and it’s an important one. That information all goes to the ground -- all the pictures that we take and all the laser data -- and the ground does a whole bunch of analysis over the next couple of days. Then, if there are areas that look like we really need to take a closer look at them, later in the flight, on Flight Day 5, we’ll go ahead and do what we call a focused inspection or a look at those particular spots. So my job -- there are quite a few of us doing this job. We’ll rotate through so that it’s not the same couple of people for many, many hours, because this takes us about six hours so that we take turns and rotate through. I’ll be maneuvering the shuttle arm and also helping to maneuver. We work in teams of three of us, so one person is maneuvering the arm, one person is working all the cameras and watching out for clearances and making sure that the arm’s doing what it’s supposed to do, and then the third person is working the, the laser systems, turning them on and off at the appropriate times.
What’s it like to learn how to operate these arms?
Oh, learning to operate the arms is a, is a real treat. I feel very fortunate and lucky to be able to do that training and to be able to actually fly the arms on orbit. It’s something that I’m looking forward to very much. For me, especially from a schoolteacher’s point of view, it is applied mathematics. If you love geometry, it’s geometry. It’s, it’s a lot of fun but it’s also very challenging and very serious. I’ve been told you’re kind of like your heart’s in your throat while you’re flying, at least that’s what some of the other fliers have told me, because you’re working with very, very expensive equipment, doing a very, very serious job. But it’s challenging and fun, and, like I said, I’m really looking forward to that.
Barbara, what is the ESP3 and how is it installed?
The ESP-3 (ESP stands for External Stowage Platform and there are three of them; this is the third one). It goes up in the back of the payload bay and I’ll be taking the robotic arm and attaching the arm to the ESP-3 pulling it up out of the bay, maneuvering it way out the side of the bay to get it close to where Charlie Hobaugh, our pilot, will have the station robotic arm ready to, to grab it. And so we’ll do what we call a handoff, like a handshake. I’ll be handing the ESP-3 to Charlie. He’ll grab it with his station arm. He’ll be taking it and reaching it up into its final stowage position which is up on top of the truss. While he’s maneuvering the ESP-3 up to its final position, Scott and I will be floating over to the International Space Station side, where we will be controlling the computer and sending commands to the latching mechanism, to latch the ESP-3 to its final position. There’s also a mating that we do so that the computers on board can talk to the equipment out on the platform and it also sends power as well, for heater power … things like that.
That doesn’t include a spacewalk, at all?
No, no, it’s all done robotically. And I mentioned myself, but Tracy and we are working together when we pull the platform out of the bay.
Are you working the station arm and the shuttle arm during this flight?
Yes. I'm very lucky to get to work both arms.
Is there a difference between them?
The station arm is, is a lot more complex because it’s not attached at one end. It’s attached at one end, but not permanently. On the shuttle, the arm's attached at its shoulder and you can maneuver it in this fashion, but it will always stay attached at the shoulder. The station arm is a heftier arm; and it’s attached at this end, but you can also take it and attach the other end of it and have it be the shoulder and then this, the shoulder then becomes the end effector or the wrist end. It also has more degrees of freedom. So it, it can really go any which way. Those are some of the things that you learn how to work with and, and make sure that you know what you’re doing.
Let’s talk about training for a bit. What’s been your greatest challenge during training for this mission?
Oh, gosh! Probably (laughs) my greatest challenge, not just for this mission but, but all through astronaut training and spaceflight training, is that it, literally there is so much to learn that it would take many, many lifetimes to learn it all. And so you just have to realize you only have x amount of time, just like in anything that you do whether you’re teaching school or whether you’re training as an astronaut or whether you’re a student, you put all you can into it and that’s how you get the most out of it. And, that’s how you’re able to give the most. And so that’s what you do; but you also at the same time realize there’s no way you can learn it all. So, you know, don’t worry about that.
So, what’s been your greatest reward in training?
Oh, gosh! Learning . Being able to learn and being able to share and really being able to work with the team. We’ve got a tremendous team. It’s not just our crew. That’s one team. But it’s really the entire team. It takes literally thousands of people (or it seems like that anyway) to put these missions together. And, to work with such tremendous people and work towards something that -- to me, back to my, my, the schoolteacher part of me, which is near and, near and dear to my heart, doing things to that really help us keep an open-ended never-ending future for our young people, full of opportunities. And that’s to me what spaceflight, space exploration, is all about.
What’s it been like to train with this crew?
Oh, they’re great! We, we have a lot of fun. It’s very serious, and then we have a lot of fun. It’s a great team. Everybody brings strengths, so we’ve got quite a variety. It just seems like the right mix, and it’s a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about the path that you took to get to this point in your career. You first came into the public eye as the backup to the Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe. Can you tell me about that? What inspired you to apply to become a Teacher in Space?
Well, if I can answer that first part first that being able to train with Christa and the Challenger crew was such a lucky, wonderful thing to get to do, and I learned so much from them. I wanted to fly with them. And those lessons that I learned I carry with me every day in everything that we do. And as far as the Teacher in Space program goes, I had come home from school one day and was watching the evening news. My husband and I were sitting on the couch watching the evening news like we did every day. And President Reagan was on, and he announced that, that they wanted to send a teacher in space. And I remember sitting up, really bolting up, which was kind of funny because at the same time as I was ready to say “Gosh, I’m that. That’s amazing. I’d like to find out more about this.” My husband, who really thinks through everything that he says and beat me to it, which was unusual, said, “Why a teacher? Why not a writer?” Because he would have loved to have done this, too. But anyway, the opportunity came up and being a schoolteacher … what we teachers do is look for opportunities to bring the world to our classroom, to further our own knowledge and our own learning so that we can do a better job making, making learning relevant and exciting and interesting in our classes. So I applied and along with many, many, others. I mean just many, many fantastic teachers. And, one of the best parts of that program was being able to meet teachers from all over the country who were doing a dynamite job. Every single one of us knew we were just representing hundreds and thousands of great teachers across the country. And that was, that was really one of the best parts of that whole program.
You mentioned that your husband supported you in that decision. Were there other people who inspired you to turn in that application for the Teacher in Space program?
Well, I found out that, that our superintendent would be getting information about the program. And so I went to him the next day and just let him know that “I understand that information would be coming,” and if he wouldn’t mind to please let me know. And, at that time, he said, “Sure, I’ll be happy to let you know; but I think you’re crazy.” What was interesting about that is, once we actually got involved, got very lucky and got involved in the program my principal and my superintendent got very involved with it as well as our entire school. And they were very strong supporters and really encouragers the whole way through. And so I’m very grateful to them for that.
Back up a little bit more. Talk to me about your teaching career. What inspired you to become a teacher and how did that come about?
OK. Well I have a wonderful career as a teacher, and I do look forward to going back in the future. In fact I just, I see this as a long while lateral move, but plan on going back to teaching when all is said and done here. It was something I wanted to do when I was little because I loved learning and I had great teachers growing up. I think they had a lot of influence on me. At the age I am through high school and college years, basically the only thing that seemed like girls did was either became teachers or nurses. And so, through high school and college, I really, I really didn’t like those limitations. But in my studies in college in human biology, one of my classes that really fascinated me a lot was on the brain. It was the structure and function of the brain. At the same time I was also taking a psychology class on learning and learning theories and memory. All of that stuff kind of put together was something that really captured my interest. At some point, I was walking around the bookstore and I don’t know why this happened but I just got drawn to the education section and happened to pick up a book about somebody that I knew nothing about. It was Maria Montessori, who it turned out, obviously, was a very famous educator, a well-known educator. I don’t mean “famous”, but I mean really well-known and influential. In kind of putting all those things together, I thought, “If these are the things I’m interested in … ,” and it reawakened that desire when I was a little kid of wanting to be a teacher. And I always knew I wanted to do something in the service area. I wanted to serve our community and, and serve other folks. And I thought, “Boy, if these are the things I’m interested in, what a better place to learn more about this and be in the profession than going into teaching.” And, so that’s kind of what led me there. It was the right decision. I taught for 24 years before taking this lateral move to do this job. And I loved every minute of it.
Let’s go back to the Teacher in Space.
Almost every minute of it. There are some challenges that aren’t loveable.
Let’s talk about the Teacher in Space program and, and after the Challenger accident, NASA asked you to stay to become America’s Space Ambassador and the Teacher in Space designee. Can you tell me about that time in your life?
Yes. Actually, NASA asked if I would, if I would stay on and step into the role that Christa had and serve, as they called it, “Teacher in Space designee,” and, and fly and, and, and fly. And, to me, that was a really important decision, and it, it was, you know, it took thought but it was an easy decision to make. We had kids all over the country watching to see what adults do in a very bad situation. And, kids learn, kids learn first by doing; they also learn by watching. And then, somewhere way down the road, they learn by, by listening to what adults tell them to do. But, it’s really by the doing and by the watching. And, as I said, we had kids all over the country watching adults to see what they do in a bad situation; and it was very important that they see that adults…figure out what went wrong, fix it, and make things better for the future to keep that future open-ended. And there was nothing more important to me than keeping, than, than knowing that kids were watching us, so making sure that we do the right thing and that we keep their future and our future, but especially their future, open-ended, open-ended for them. And, that’s what happened.
So, back in the fall of ’86, you went back to teaching. But, you still continued to work with NASA’s education division. What types of things did you do with NASA?
A lot of consulting with NASA. And, basically, I had a partner teacher; and we shared the classroom together. For all those years, it was a wonderful, wonderful way to teach. About a week a month, I was out of the classroom doing things for NASA. That involved extensive travel and all that. But it was working with lots of different groups, industry, business, lots of school groups, and working with NASA to help make sure that the education programs were designed in a way that, that met the needs of our teachers and our students, that they could actually use in their classrooms and outside of their classrooms and that was relevant and fun and interesting and exciting for them. One of my favorite things that I got to do during that period was serve on a federal task force for women, minorities, and handicapped in science and engineering. Helping with that was a big eye-opener for me as well, to really understand what we call our “pipeline issues.” How do we ensure that, that we have lots of people well educated and well trained to do the kinds of jobs that enable us to go on to the moon and Mars, to be able to build space stations, to be able to explore in very foreign environments. Serving on that task force, I think, was one of the highlights.
During that time, did you get a feel that the public and teachers and students still supported this idea of flying educators in space?
Oh, absolutely! No question. I got asked a lot of questions about that.
You still got letters during that time?
Oh, yes; still do to this day.
So, let’s fast forward to 1998, when you were selected as an astronaut. How did you find out?
Well, I got a call in the morning before school from our administrator, from Dan Goldin, and from our director at the Johnson Space Center, George Abbey. I went to school that day like every day. I wanted to make sure that my colleagues knew. They’ve been a part of this for many, many, many years and, and were all looking forward to that day. There was a huge buzz of excitement and everything, both in, in my school and elsewhere across the country. I think one of my favorite stories was one of our sons had forgotten something that morning in all the hubbub. My husband brought his, the item (I think it was a book or something; I really can’t remember; it doesn’t matter, but anyway), my husband brought the item for our son that he needed. When he was walking in, one of our colleagues was in the hallway getting students ready for whatever they were doing next and saw Clay. And (Clay told me this later) she just lit up and said something like, “You don’t know what a boost in the arm this is for all of us.”
So, you’re selected as an astronaut. Did this change your lifestyle, being, instead of training as a payload specialist for a specific mission; you’re now training to be a full-fledged mission specialist. Did that change your lifestyle?
No, it really didn’t. I would say from being a teacher to being an astronaut, or learning to be an astronaut -- not really. It’s very much the same as, as teaching. It’s working with complex people and complex stuff and complex ideas in a very complex environment. It’s busy; it’s time-intensive. Your mind is always going. There’s a lot of creativity involved with it. There’s never enough time for everything that you need to do, including your family. And so, all of that is very much the same. I think what’s different is that as teachers, we are students in our own classroom. I think people always think of teachers as being people who stand up in the front of the room and lecture. That’s not at all the way teachers teach. We’re really with our students and involved in that and we’re learning every day while we’re teaching. The only difference, I would say, between there and learning in this environment during those first couple of years of astronaut training is in the classroom. You’re the one designing the environment; and when you come to NASA to learn, somebody else is designing that learning environment for you. You’ve got to be very much involved and very much proactive on what you learn and how you learn it and going after the things that you need to make sure that you’re, doing the best job that you can.
So, now you’re a fully trained mission specialist astronaut. Just like every other astronaut, you’re waiting for your flight assignment. You get the call that you’re assigned to STS-118. Tell me about that.
Well, first of all, I’d like to say you’re never waiting for a flight assignment. You’re working and working very, very hard. That's really what you do as an astronaut, the spaceflight part is the ultimate, but it’s such a small part time wise and really intensity wise of everything that you do. And, the other jobs that you do are fascinating, and they’re really, really important jobs. They help support everybody else flying. They help support the entire program. So we have folks who are helping. Their technical jobs are helping to work with the design of the next exploration vehicle, the CEV that, that we’ll be using for station, for moon and Mars, etc. My particular assignments while I was quote/unquote "waiting," which wasn’t waiting, it was working -- every single one of those assignments, I really, really loved. I felt like I was contributing, which I was; and I was also learning. It’s the best kind of on-the-job training that you can get. Working with the robotic branch and really, really helping out there and learning some things that at play, that has a direct implication for our particular mission. Working in the station branch with the stowage and issues like: What do you do with trash? And, all those things play into my being able to be the load master and making sure that we’re doing a really good job transferring everything over that we need to. I served a couple of years as a CAPCOM working in Mission Control, being the communicator with the ground team and the team on board. I can’t imagine flying in space without having that job, where we really learn who all the folks are on the ground and how that all works on the ground, and the best ways to communicate back and forth. So you’re, you’re never waiting. In terms of getting the call, actually you find out just before everybody else in our office finds out. We have an all-hands meeting where the next crews are announced. It’s a lot of fun, no matter which crews are announced, to know that we’ve got more folks flying and more missions coming.
So, you’re assigned to STS-118. When were you assigned to that flight?
It’s been a couple of years. Actually it was December before Columbia because we were going to be the next flight on Columbia.
Where were you during the Columbia tragedy?
I was here working CAPCOM during the Columbia tragedy.
So, you’re waiting for your next flight, and obviously your friends and colleagues were on the Columbia tragedy. Were there echoes of Challenger in that?
Oh, absolutely there were, and there always will be any time we have a problem like that.
But, you’ve always understood the risk, and you’ve always believed that this risk was worth it. Talk to me about risk.
Yeah. If we don’t take some risks, we’re not going to go anywhere. As a teacher in our classrooms, risk is an important part of learning. And, we encourage our students to take the right kinds of risk and discourage them from taking the wrong kinds of risks. Kids are exposed to all kinds of, of bad risks, whether it’s with peer pressure, what they see on TV, in the movies … but, we want to encourage them to take the right kind of risk, because that’s how they’ll be able to contribute more, they’ll get more out of their futures and be able to give more. It’s part of keeping their doors open to their future. So we want kids to risk an opinion when they may be afraid to, because they may be wondering, what their friends and what their peers might think. We want them to risk asking questions, because that’s how you learn is by asking questions and delving for those answers. Spaceflight is an important part of that. It also serves as a great model for kids to see adults taking the right kinds of risk for the right reasons. Part of that, too, is that they also learn how, how you help minimize those risks. We do everything we can to make sure that we understand the risks and try to mitigate them as best we can. It’s a matter of getting the proper training; it’s a matter of making sure that the equipment is designed correctly and working properly; making sure that, that you also know your safety equipment and how to use it, and that you do use it. All of that plays into the kinds of things we want our students to do, whether they’re riding their bike or actively participating in a classroom.
We’ve heard a lot about education through the past 20 years, from the time Christa McAuliffe was scheduled to fly aboard Challenger. We’re hearing a lot about it now. What’s the partnership been between NASA and the education community during these past 20 years?
Actually, it goes way back before 20 years. When you go back to NASA’s original charter it has a charter to share the knowledge and the experiences that are learned through spaceflight. Education is a part of NASA’s original charter, way back when it was NACA before it was NASA. Even when I was a young child we had aerospace specialists come into our schools and share knowledge and the experiences with us. Those were really exciting times. With Christa NASA was able to get educators directly into the most visible area of spaceflight. This program is continuing now. We have three new teachers who have joined us in the astronaut office and are doing a tremendous job. They’ve gone through their initial training, and they are working hard at their technical assignments and working hard on the education aspects and will be assigned to spaceflight. But to have teachers bring the experience and expertise to NASA to help NASA with its education efforts so that they do meet the needs of our teachers and students, it’s, it’s a two-way street. We bring that connection to NASA; and then, we help bring NASA to our teaching community by being able to experience all of this through the eyes, the hearts, and the mind of a teacher and being able to share all of it from a teacher’s perspective.
Will you feel a sense of closure once you fly this mission?
Christa’s legacy was open-ended, and is open-ended. Any teacher’s legacy is open-ended. I hope, and I know that people will be thinking about Christa and the Challenger crew and that’s a good thing and they’ll be thinking about many, many teachers and others who have worked very, very hard for 20 years to continue Christa’s and the rest of the Challenger crew’s work. I am just the next teacher of many to come, we’ve got three in training right now, and there will be more in the future, teachers who will fly as astronauts, so just, just one of a long step that will continue well into the future.
As heir to Christa McAuliffe, do you feel the public eye will be on you and you alone, during this flight?
Certainly not me alone. We’ve got a great crew. And it’s not just the eye on the crew that’s on orbit, but we have a team on the ground. We’ve got a team that’s been working many, many years, long before we were even assigned to this flight, to make it all happen. I know that people will be thinking about Christa and the Challenger crew, and I think that’s a really good thing because what Christa and the Challenger crew were trying to do was the right thing. I’m glad that they will be thinking about that, and I’m glad that they will be thinking about all the teachers and all the others who have worked, who have been working very, very hard to continue the work of Christa and the Challenger crew.
You mentioned the ground support personnel. Have you had a chance to talk with the people who are supporting this mission from the ground?
Oh, absolutely. We work with them. With our Mission Control team we’ve had several of our integrated simulations now where we actually are rehearsing or practicing exactly those mission days like they’ll be on orbit with all kinds of problems thrown in to make sure that both the ground team and we know how to try to solve those problems and re-plan for any kind of contingency that may come up.
What are your thoughts regarding the job that ground support does?
The ground support is absolutely phenomenal. It’s not just our Mission Control team, but it’s all the folks that plan the mission, that, that are working all the technical and non-technical issues, that are putting the orbiter together. A couple of weeks ago we were down at Kennedy for what we call CEIT. I don’t even know what that acronym stands for anymore. But, we go through all the orbiter and check out all the things that we’ll be doing with the orbiter and make sure everything is, that we get to see it first hand before we actually fly in it. All of the folks down there have worked so hard to put this orbiter together, as I said, the whole team. The education team has been working tremendously hard to make sure that the education component of this mission, which, which is one of the key objectives of the mission, is all, is all put together and working well. They’ve been working very, very long, hard hours. They’re all tremendous, every single one of those people. I truly can’t thank them enough. I don’t think we can honor them enough for the kind of work that they all do.
Barbara, tell us about the education payloads on this mission.
That puts a big smile on my face! First, our education goals for this mission: we want to engage as many students and teachers as we can in actively participating in the Vision for Exploration, actively participating in moon, Mars and beyond. So our education payloads that we’re taking up are in support of that. It’s really all about what kids and their teachers and their scout leaders and museum directors, are doing on the ground and what we do on orbit. We call it kind of the icing on the cake, too, to support what they’re doing on the ground. We’re taking up a couple of small growth chambers, and we’re taking up … I like to say a kazillion -- many, many, many, many plant seeds. And, the seeds we’re going to take up and most all of them we’re going to bring back down. I’ll tell you about those in a minute. The growth chambers we’re going to transfer over to the International Space Station where Clay, where Clay Anderson, once we leave, will get those growing. The idea is that all of this is ongoing. Nothing really starts and stops. We want our young people to have a sense of that, too -- that the education payload that we have will be up on station and continue long past when we, when we come back.
It’s not just a one-shot deal.
Not just a one-shot deal. All of this is just a small part of what we see happening in the future. So we first tap in to kids’ curiosity. As a teacher, you want to start with what it is your students already know and what it is that they want to learn. And we hope that, and know that they have lots and lots of questions and curiosities about spaceflight and about space exploration and where we go into the future; where they go into the future. So, we start with their questions. And, we’ll be doing some uplinks and downlinks and answering, answering their questions from on board -- some of the questions anyway -- and making those connections for them real time. But we want them to know that we all have many, many questions, too, and many questions that have to be answered to be able to do long-term exploration on the moon, on Mars, and beyond. Right now we’re working on designing the vehicle. Well, the kids who are in our classrooms today, even the high school seniors, by the time they get through college, undergraduate and then graduate years, that work will already be done. But, there is so much that needs to be considered and planned for. As I mentioned, answers need to be found for way into the future. Our idea is to engage kids now in those kinds of things that they will be doing. Kids aren’t motivated by doing things that the adults have already done and taken care of. They’re motivated by doing things that they get to do, that are new for them. So, that’s open-ended. What we’re taking up, these plant growth chambers, are to get them thinking about one of many, many questions that need to be answered, which is: How do you sustain life for long duration on the moon or on Mars and beyond? So, we would like them to think about what kinds of plants are the best to grow? How are you going to grow them? What are the things that you need to consider to grow them whether you’re in the environment of the moon or the environment of Mars, or on a spacecraft that’s going to take you there, or on the International Space Station? And, we’re going to have an engineering design challenge for them where we would like for them to design a-, and build a model or a working prototype of a plant growth chamber. What we’re going to do with the little chambers that we take up is just use those as one of many examples that can be built for a, an environment like the International Space Station. But It’s really to get them thinking, considering, and brainstorming all the kinds of questions that they’ll need to ask and try to find answers to in order to do their own designing. We would love to see their designs. And the seeds that we’re taking up we’re bringing back down for them. It’s both real and metaphorical to get something literally physical into their hands that says, “Go do the stuff that we get to do.” You know, “Go do exploring, experimenting, and discovering. We’re not going to tell you what to do and how to do it. They’re yours to do just like we do.”
So, the students will have a chance to touch these seeds and to try to look at them first hand and interact with them?
Absolutely. They will be seeds that will have flown in space. They'll not just touch them and look at them; but figure out what it is they want to study with them, and also use them for their own chambers that they’ve designed and built as a test bed.
It sounds like you’re not just up there to provide answers. You’re searching for more questions.
Absolutely! We are not there to provide answers. Our mission is to help find the answers and help enable our country through building the International Space Station. It's a stepping-stone to the next steps to the moon and Mars. We’re there to help enable the finding of the next answers and the asking of the next questions.
How important is, is curiosity … to mankind?
Curiosity to me is what drives humankind. I think one of the greatest pleasures of being able to be, to be a human and being alive is that we get to learn, we get to explore and we get to discover. That’s all built around curiosity. To be able to do that with other, with other people is to me, what it’s all about. That goes back to teaching and what that’s like in our classrooms. Good education starts with curiosity and builds on that curiosity.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an astronaut?
The same advice I’d give to somebody considering being a teacher: If it’s something you’re interested in, it’s great work! It’s challenging. It’s rewarding. It’s really hard. It’s really fun. And whether you go into teaching, or whether you go into spaceflight, not just being an astronaut but any of the jobs that are involved with space exploration I’d say, "Go for it."
How do you feel about being part of the continuing a human presence in space? Are you excited about that?
I’m really excited about that. I feel really fortunate and lucky to be able to be involved in something that is so much bigger than all of us put together. Especially as a, from, from being a teacher and being able to bring eyes and ears and hearts and, and mind of teachers into this to see how we can best take these experiences and not only help contribute to the future of it through moon and Mars, but through the people who are going to make it happen -- the kids sitting in our classrooms, working and studying and learning in our classrooms today.
What do you think the station means to our world now and to future generations?
Goodness. The best thing to do would be to actually go out and ask all of us, all over the planet what it means. To me personally it’s a stepping-stone to the next step and the next step and the next step, which is that ongoing, never-ending future for our young people. I, I think of it in terms of the universe. As far as we know right now, the universe is constantly expanding, which means all those opportunities for humankind are constantly expanding. The International Space Station is an engineering marvel, especially the international aspect of it, the coming together of countries, of people, of minds, and trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and taking the things that work and make them better and taking the things that don’t work and trying to figure out how to make them work. All of those things as we go farther and farther out and for longer, longer duration, and not just little camping trips but true living and long-term exploration to find more about the world around us -- the International Space Station is a really important part of that.
What part of your background do you expect to draw from the most on this mission?
I think my teaching background and all the great training that I’ve had here is what I will draw on. As teachers it’s getting the job done, doing it through a great teamwork and being able, as complex issues come up -- and they will – to work as a team and figure out quickly and carefully how we can best take care of that. After the flight I’m really looking forward to taking those experiences and what we do, and how those can be translated into better opportunities for our students and our teachers. What I’m very committed to, what I’m excited about what happens after the mission, is how we can provide more and better opportunities for our young people, and the people who work with them who are key to that -- our teachers and how to provide more and more opportunities for them to be able to get, you know, first-hand delve into all of this stuff.
As this mission has morphed from being a crew rotation mission and now it also involves robotics. You’ve had a crew member who was added to the mission recently. How important is it to be flexible when you’re training for a mission such as this?
Oh, it’s very important to be flexible. All the changes that happen are good changes. Even though it was good before, it’s even better now. We’ve got a saying in the teaching world that the flexibility world is a really, really important one. When you’re in the classroom, anything happens at any time. It’s very much like spaceflight. Flexibility is the key. I’ll go back to the classroom environment; but we always see “If a bee flies through the window, that’s what’s going to grab immediate attention, especially of the little kids. That’s what you take as a teachable moment and you turn that into a wonderful learning opportunity.” That’s what the kids are going to be most interested in.
Have you had teachable moments during this, training for this flight?
Absolutely. I’ll tell you what to me one of the things that, that I’ve probably taken away the most from the training part of it: We work as teachers on students’ learning styles, and that’s really, really important. When you go from your teaching environment, where you’re helping design that environment, to a learning environment that someone else has designed, it’s really interesting to see different learning styles among adults and different teaching styles among teachers and trainers, and how to, how to best handle that in the classroom. That’s a really big challenge as a teacher. So, I think having experienced that as a student in somebody else’s environment is something that, that I think will make a difference in the teaching.
Let’s talk about your hometown for a few moments. Do you get back there much?
I’ve got a couple of hometowns, and one is where I grew up, and that’s Fresno, Calif., where I spent all my growing-up years through high school. And the people and the place are near and dear to my heart. My other hometown is where I lived and taught for 24 years, before coming here to Johnson Space Center, that’s McCall, Idaho. The people and the place are also near and dear to my heart. I don’t get to either place as often as I’d love to because training for spaceflight is pretty much all time consuming. But I wish I could.
Do you have any special plans to look for those places while you’re flying?
Oh, absolutely. From what I understand, we’re hardly going to have any time at all to just relax and look out the window. But, I would sure love to see both places from space.
Barbara, if you had a message for today’s youth, what would it be?
Our young people, I hope that they know that people all over the country, all over the world, care very, very much about them -- people that they know, and people that they don’t know. They care about them and they care about their futures. They see a very bright and open-ended future for them, and are there to help. We all need to keep our doors open; by keeping your doors open rather than having them slam shut, which is really easy to do because there are so many challenges that come your way and, and difficult times; but if you can keep those doors wide open the future is open-ended and, never-ending. There are all kinds of opportunities, whether they’re ones that you have goals for or whether they’re ones that come knocking at your door that you don’t even know are available, you will be prepared for them.
Barbara Morgan, Mission Specialist 4 for STS-118, thank you for talking with us.
Thanks so much. It’s my pleasure.