CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space shuttle Endeavour roared into orbit Wednesday carrying teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who was finally fulfilling the dream of Christa McAuliffe and the rest of the fallen Challenger crew.
Endeavour and its crew of seven rose from the seaside pad at 6:36 p.m. (2236 GMT), right on time, and pierced a solidly blue sky. They were expected to reach the international space station on Friday.
Once Endeavour was safely past the 73-second mark of the flight, the moment when Challenger exploded shortly after the call "Go at throttle up," Mission Control exclaimed, "Morgan racing toward space on the wings of a legacy."
Immediately after the shuttle reached orbit, Mission Control announced, "For Barbara Morgan and her crewmates, class is in session."
Morgan was McAuliffe's backup for Challenger's doomed launch in 1986 and, even after two space shuttle disasters, never swayed in her dedication to NASA and the agency's on-and-off quest to send a schoolteacher into space. She rocketed away in the center seat of the cabin's lower compartment, the same seat that had been occupied by McAuliffe.
McAuliffe's mother, Grace Corrigan, watched the launch on TV from her home in Massachusetts. "I'm very happy that it went up safely," she said. "We all send her our love," she added, her voice breaking.
More than half of NASA's 114 Teacher-in-Space nominees in 1985 gathered at the launch site, along with hundreds of other educators, all of them thrilled to see Morgan continue what McAuliffe began.
Also on hand was the widow of Challenger's commander, who said earlier in the day that she would be praying and pacing at liftoff and would not relax until Morgan was safely back on Earth in two weeks.
"The Challenger crew — my husband, Dick Scobee, the teacher Christa McAuliffe — they would be so happy with Barbara Morgan," said June Scobee Rodgers. "It's important that the lessons will be taught because there's a nation of people waiting, still, who remember where they were when we lost the Challenger and they remember a teacher was aboard."
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin met Tuesday night with several members of the Challenger astronaut families in town for the launch — although not the McAuliffe family — and said they did not seem worried.
"They didn't act like they came to see another tragedy," he said. "They're here to celebrate her having a chance to fly."
Congratulations Barbara Morgan and the Space Shuttle Endeavor STS-118 Crew! I'm sure that Christa McAuliffe would be happy that her mission is finally underway.
I remember witnessing the Challenger Disaster on the television in my 3rd Grade classroom. What a terrible day that was... I will never forget it. Words cannot express how happy I am to see this mission proceed!