Space teacher Barbara Morgan, NASA's first professional educator astronaut, will hang up her spaceflight wings in August after a two-decade trek to orbit that culminated with a shuttle launch last year.
Morgan, 56, began her trek in 1985 when NASA chose her as the backup civilian educator for the agency's Teacher in Space program. She left NASA and returned to teaching after the ill-fated launch of the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded and broke apart just after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, with seven astronauts aboard, including the first Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe.
Morgan returned to the agency in 1998, when she was selected as NASA's first professional educator astronaut. She was named to NASA's STS-118 shuttle crew in 2002, but her flight was delayed by a second shuttle tragedy, the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven astronauts.
Morgan launched to the international space station in August 2007, when she and six crewmates flew a successful 13-day mission to continue construction on the orbiting laboratory before returning home aboard their shuttle Endeavour.
"It is really tough to leave NASA," Morgan said in a NASA statement. "It is a great organization with great people doing great things. We're going back to the moon and on to Mars."
Morgan, a former McCall, Idaho, elementary school teacher, is leaving NASA for a position as Distinguished Educator in Residence at Boise State University, where she'll work with the state of Idaho on science and math education.
"We live in a time when our state needs a strong voice to advocate for the importance of science, technology, engineering and math education to benefit our children, our economy and our nation," Boise State President Bob Kustra said in a statement. "As a respected teacher, mission specialist and astronaut, Barbara is uniquely qualified to provide this voice and this leadership."
A native of Fresno, Calif., Morgan spent more than 305 hours in space during the STS-118 mission. While working in orbit, she wielded robotic arms aboard the shuttle Endeavour and station, and spoke to schoolchildren on Earth about life in space. She is married and has two sons, and said before her STS-118 mission that she ultimately hoped to return to education after flying in space.
"Barbara has served NASA and the Astronaut Office with distinction over the course of her career," NASA chief astronaut Steve Lindsey said in a statement. "From the Teacher in Space Program to her current position as a fully qualified astronaut, she has set a superb example and been a consistent role model for both teachers and students. She will be missed."
Morgan is leaving NASA with three remaining educator astronauts in the agency's spaceflying ranks: mission specialists Richard Arnold, Joseph Acaba and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger. The teacher-astronauts were recruited in 2004, with Arnold and Acaba slated to launch in 2009 during NASA's STS-119 shuttle mission to the space station.
"I'm especially proud that we have three other teachers who are astronauts, and there will be others in the future," Morgan said. "I'm very excited to go to work for Boise State University. I like everything about it, and it's going to be wonderful helping exploration by working full time for education."