Three weeks after returning to Earth, teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan cheerfully carried out her first space education assignment Monday, sharing the magic of flying in orbit with children at Walt Disney World.
"Our mission to the international space station truly was a dream come true," Morgan told youngsters and their parents, and NASA and Disney employees gathered outside Epcot's Mission: Space attraction.
"I do have some words to share and they say, 'Reach for your dreams ... the sky is no limit,'" said the astronaut, who at 55, achieved her dream of spaceflight.
Those words and Morgan's name are etched into a plaque on an outer wall of Mission: Space. This so-called Wall of Honor bears quotes from such visionaries as Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Galileo and Christa McAuliffe, the first designated teacher in space who died aboard Challenger in 1986. Morgan had trained as her backup.
Morgan's plaque is right next to McAuliffe's, which reads: "Space is for everybody ... That's our new frontier out there."
Morgan and her six shuttle crewmates met with schoolchildren inside Spaceship Earth, the huge golfball-looking structure that is the emblem of Epcot.
One girl asked if the astronauts had seen any UFOs.
Morgan joked that she saw plenty aboard Endeavour: misplaced items like her floating scissors. But she added that when she gazed out the window and saw all the stars, it was difficult to imagine that Earth is the only planet with life.
Another youngster wanted to know whom the astronauts would most like to take into space.
Morgan answered, "As a teacher, I would want to take every student on this planet and every teacher on this planet. You all would love it."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Morgan said it was a relief, in a way, to have the shuttle mission behind her and to focus more on children and education again.
She would love to return to space, she says. But with only three more years left for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttles and three more teacher-astronauts waiting to fly, that is unlikely.
In any event, Morgan didn't want people to think of the past mission as though "Barbara completed Christa and the Challenger's mission. I didn't."
"The work of a teacher is never finished and the legacy of a teacher is never finished," she said.
After training as backup to McAuliffe and then watching her die during liftoff, Morgan returned to teaching elementary school in Idaho. Then in 1998, she joined NASA's astronaut corps. The 2003 Columbia disaster delayed her journey into space by four years.
Morgan said the educational part of her recent flight was designed not as a one-time event, but as "the beginning of what we hope to do for many years down the road." Besides talking to schoolchildren from space, she carried up 10 million basil seeds that will be distributed, with students encouraged to build space-style growth chambers for them.
More than anything, Morgan said she's looking forward to hearing what children want to know about spaceflight. "Kids are full of curiosity and what we do is find out what they want to know and learn, and I can't wait," she said.