BALTIMORE, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Nearly 17 years after watching her friend and fellow teacher die aboard the space shuttle Challenger, Barbara Morgan, who trained as backup to Teacher in Space Christa McAulifee, got the call she had been waiting for.
In her back yard to get away from the noise of her sons' electric guitar playing, Morgan, 51, answered a telephone call on her cordless phone. It was NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe.
"He said 'congratulations,'" Morgan, 51, said Thursday during a ceremony at the Maryland Science Center NASA arranged to announce her flight assignment. "That was the first I heard of it."
O'Keefe made good on a pledge he delivered last year to fly Morgan, who is now a full-fledged member of the astronaut corps. At the time, O'Keefe said the former Idaho elementary school teacher would fly after the International Space Station's initial assembly phase is complete.
Morgan will fly sooner than that, however. She is slated to join five other astronauts on a mission to deliver and install a truss segment to the space station in November 2003.
"I'm thrilled to be flying as both an astronaut and as a teacher," Morgan said. "I am very proud to help continue our first teacher in space Christa McAuliffe's mission and most of all, I look forward to many more flights by many more teachers in the future."
Morgan is the first person selected as an educator astronaut -- a new category of mission specialist established by former administrator Dan Goldin in 1998. NASA plans to recruit more teachers to become astronauts beginning as early as next year.
NASA's educational office, meanwhile, is developing activities for Morgan to take on as time permits during her 11-day flight. Her first priority, however, will be to support the mission's primary goals to outfit the space station.
The flight is to take place aboard shuttle Columbia, NASA's oldest orbiter, which will be flying to the space station for the first time. Heavier than its sister ships, Columbia recently was refurbished to allow it to haul a single station component to the outpost. NASA can only fly six astronauts, however, rather than the seven-member crews typically flown on station assembly missions, said Johnson Space Center spokesman Rob Navias.