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January 15, 1998

NASA announces both John Glenn and Barbara Morgan will fly in space

When NASA announced that 76-year old former astronaut and Senator John Glenn would again fly in space as part of an experiment on bone loss in orbit, officials also made another announcement. Almost exactly 12 years since the Challenger explosion, Barbara Morgan would also be given a second chance. But this time, she would go to Houston and train as a full fledged astronaut.

NASA's class of 1998 Barbara Morgan in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab Alan Ladwig

Barbara Morgan and John GlennThe former manager of the Teacher-in-Space program, Alan Ladwig, says once Glenn was chosen, Morgan's selection was almost inevitable.

"The point was made that "Well, okay, if we're going to fly John Glenn, a non-astronaut, then what about Barbara Morgan?" he says. "And it caused a lot of discussion. There was still some feeling that okay, are you going to get criticized from the public that you are putting a non-astronaut on board? And one of the senior NASA managers at the time came up with the idea, "Well, let's make her a full-time astronaut." That way there is no question that she didn't understand the risk, there was no question that she didn't have a specific role to play."

Morgan, her husband and two children moved to Houston, where she trained on all the systems involved in spaceflight. She became close to the three other women in her class, Tracy Caldwell, Patricia Hilliard, and Sunita Williams. They dubbed themselves "the Spice Girls," with Morgan as "Old Spice." Williams would eventually spend six months on the International Space Station. Caldwell and Morgan would both be assigned to the same flight.

Patricia Hilliard Robertson was killed in a crash of an experimental plane on May 26, 2001.

Barbara Morgan at the CAPCOM (capsule communicator) desk, talking with astronauts on orbit The 'Spice Girls' of the class of 1998

John Glenn launched on October 29, 1998. But in 2002, Barbara Morgan still was not even assigned to a crew. While a time lag of length is not unusual, it made her friends frustrated.

Kathy PhelanThe former manager of the Teacher-in-Space program, Alan Ladwig, says once Glenn was chosen, Morgan's selection was almost inevitable.

"We started seeing people paying to fly into space," says Kathy Phelan, a former McCall teacher. "And I thought, here's somebody who has been working for this for years and years and years. She wasn't even assigned to a crew yet."

Phelan, who had become the president of the Idaho Education Association, wrote a letter to NASA. The president of the National Education Association and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo also submitted letters.

Kathy Phelan's letter (.pdf, 185 KB)
National Education Association letter (.pdf, 96 KB)
Sen. Mike Crapo's letter (.pdf, 35 KB)
NASA's response (.pdf, 80 KB)