NASA Kicks Off New Teacher in Space Program

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NASA announced today that it was once again soliciting teachers to fly in space. In so doing, the words of Christa McAuliffe, who died on her way to teach class in space, were heard once again: "I touch the future: I teach".

The formal kickoff was held this morning at Hardy Middle School in Washington DC. Present at the event was NASA Administrator O'Keefe, his senior staff, Florida First Lady Columba Bush, and hundreds of excited kids.

According to O'Keefe "NASA leads the most ambitious exploration and scientific research efforts in history. It's a legacy that is in jeopardy unless we find innovative ways to get students and the entire education community excited about mathematics and science. We believe the Educator Astronaut Program will help us fulfill our mandate to inspire that next generation of explorers."

NASA's next teacher in space (the proper term is now Educator Mission Specialist) Barbara Morgan encouraged students to "C'mon up! Any one of you students could go to Mars - or be part of team that directs those missions. We ask you students to join us and think about coming to work at NASA."

Recently appointed Associate Administrator for Education Dr. Adena Williams Loston will manage the Educator Mission Specialist selection program in at NASA Headquarters. She said "Educator Astronauts will be able to provide a direct connection between America's teachers and students, and the various careers and opportunities associated with space exploration through the Nation's aerospace program. Education has always been a part of NASA's mission, and we have renewed our commitment to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics again".

NASA will not be the "Alpha and Omega" on this according to Loston and already has a number of partners lined up to help. They include the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Challenger Center, and a number of professional organizations and industrial partners.

Later, in a teleconference with reporters, Loston went into greater detail about the program. The budget will be $2 million - $1 million from existing funds and another $1 million in new funds.

While she hesitated to anticipate how many teachers would respond, Loston noted that the last call for applications in the 1980's resulted in 12,000 applications and that she was hoping for similar success this time.

Loston expects to eventually select 3 to 6 educator mission specialists. According to Astronaut Kent Rominger, NASA would like to try and fly the first Educator Mission Specialist in late 2005 / early 2006 - and then fly at least one a year thereafter. Given that selectees will be fully-fledged mission specialist astronauts (i.e. trained with multiple skills), they will be rotated onto flight assignments in a fashion more or less identical to that used for current astronauts.

When asked how NASA will capture the interest expressed by applicants who are not selected, Loston noted that a wide interaction will be in place with NASA's existing educational activities such that these people will be used as part of ongoing activities.

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