Image: Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan
NASA hopes teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan will inspire interest in engineering and science upon her return to Earth.
updated 8/8/2007 2:49:01 PM ET 2007-08-08T18:49:01

NASA's shuttle Endeavour is poised to launch into space Wednesday with fresh cargo, a new hunk of the international space station, spare parts and 10 million cinnamon basil seeds.

The seedy payload is launching in the hopes of garnering youth interest in science and space, NASA education officials said today in a briefing here at the Kennedy Space Center.

"Tomorrow we will have ... what could be considered the ultimate classroom," said Joyce Winterton, NASA's assistant administrator for education, of the shuttle and its seven STS-118 astronauts.

Endeavour is slated to launch on NASA's second construction flight of the year to the ISS at 6:36 p.m. EDT Wednesday. Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Scott Kelly, the STS-118 mission may last from 11-to-14 days, pending the success of a station-to-shuttle power transfer system.

While students in the U.S. sow their seeds in plant growth chambers they've designed as part of a NASA-led engineering challenge, Canadian youth will follow the changes and risks to astronauts in space. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams, an STS-118 mission specialist and spacewalker, will lead the CD-based project deemed "My Body in Space" from orbit around earth.

Marilyn Steinberg, manager for the CSA's space learning program, said 40,000 Canadian classrooms will reach 1.2 million students with the interactive CDs.

"They're going to allow our students to engage in an active way," Steinberg said.

Teacher in space
Teacher-turned-spaceflyer Barbara Morgan, NASA's first official educator astronaut, will rocket to space for the first time as one of Endeavour's mission specialists. Winterton said teachers have been closely watching Morgan since she served as a backup Teacher in Space to Christa McAuliffe before the tragic 1986 Challenger shuttle accident, garnering extra interest in the STS-118 mission.

"When [she] returns ... she will really bring back to students and educators the passion for engineering and science," Winterton said, adding that the mission will hopefully inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists as the shuttle program nears its end.

Morgan, however, views her role as a beginning in NASA's space program.

"I see myself as just one of many teachers who will fly as part of this program," Morgan told in a preflight interview.

Endeavour's STS-118 astronauts will work together to add a new starboard side section to the space station's growing main truss during their flight. NASA mission planners have said that, if time permits, Morgan and her colleagues will conduct up to three live downlinks to U.S. locations in which students on Earth can ask the crew questions and watch demonstrations.

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