Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Spaceflight elicits a little jealousy
Christa McAuliffe's understudy, Barbara Morgan, has waited 22 years to go to space; she will get her chance on Wednesday.
I must admit it, I am watching Barbara Morgan's space shuttle mission with a healthy dose of envy.

In the many years I spent pushing NASA to select me as the first journalist to fly on the shuttle, Barbara's name came up a lot.

Ideally, I had hoped that she would be on the crew that I would join on a flight to the International Space Station. I felt the combination of a seasoned reporter and a gifted teacher would make for compelling, unprecedented insight into the world of spaceflight. (After 22-year wait, teacher gets ready for flight)

Whether that would have happened is hard to know for certain. But the loss of Columbia on February 1, 2003, permanently grounded my dreams of transmitting live reports from space. I and others at CNN had been negotiating with NASA for several years before that fateful day to secure me a seat on the shuttle. At long last, we were on the cusp of an agreement.

Like Barbara Morgan, I would move to Houston and go through the entire training program for a shuttle "mission specialist". The process would take at least a year, maybe longer. The entire experience was to be grist for a series of special reports on CNN culminating with my reports from the shuttle and the space station during the mission.

We were set to make an announcement after Columbia came home safe and sound. But the loss of the shuttle and her crew put the idea on the shelf, probably for good.

The shuttle fleet is slated for retirement. The last flight is set for the end of 2010. Fourteen more launches (give or take) to go and seven seats on the shuttle and at least 50 astronauts in Houston who have never had a flight. I will let you finish the arithmetic.

I probably have a better chance of hitching a ride with one of those nascent private spaceliners. Who knows.

For a while, I wondered if Barbara would ever realize her dream; although she told me the other day she never doubted she would get a chance to fly. Maybe I could be faulted for not employing her amazing power of positive thinking.

While I am envious, I also am glad Barbara will, at long last, get her chance to go. This is NASA delivering on a promise derailed by the other shuttle disaster -- Challenger.

Christa McAuliffe's understudy has waited in the wings for 22 years, and now the limelight is hers. She will be carrying the fire.

I will be cheering her and her crew on, holding my breath (as always) during that eight-and-a-half minute streak to the heavens.

-- By Miles O'Brien, CNN Correspondent


Editor's note: Meet teacher and astronaut Barbara Morgan tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360," 10 p.m. ET.
Posted By CNN: 9:53 AM ET
  29 Comments
I have to admit that I am VERY disappointed to see that the "Teacher in Space," publicity stunt is still alive and well. I think there are far more important things that could be done with the limited resources and space available than to send a teacher or a journalist into space.
Posted By Jeff, SC : 10:50 AM ET
You're kidding-- there's a "journalist in space" program?! No offense Miles, but the first person who comes to mind is a certain silver-haired globe-trotter... ;)
Posted By Steve -- Peoria, Ill. : 11:12 AM ET
What an opportunity of a lifetime. I can't say I'm envious, because I'm too frightened of heights to even go there...but I really admire those that do and what a sight she will see. Earth from afar. I'm always glad when someone realizes their dream. Good for her. Safe trip.
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 11:39 AM ET
Pardon me if I disagree with the comments about wasting space with mere teachers. Science education in this country is woefully lacking. Perhaps a teacher in space will elicit some interest, maybe some kid will think "hey, maybe I can do that someday." As the offspring of teachers I see such an amazing potential for teaching moments surrounding this. Ms. Morgan's students (be they in her class or the ones who will learn from her adventure) can only be enriched, encouraged and incredibly lucky that she had this opportunity. Education is the most powerful weapon we have.
Posted By Anonymous : 12:18 PM ET
deseased Columbia astronaut Laurel Clark said-

"There's a lot of different things that we do during life that could potentially harm us. I choose not to stop doing those things."
Posted By Cary - Lowell, IN : 12:57 PM ET
Wow, Miles. I had no idea you had space plans. It must be really disappointing to have them thwarted, but never say never.
Posted By Stacy, St. Louis, MO : 1:28 PM ET
I feel your pain, Miles.

Can't you get CNN to pony up the 35 million for a trip to the ISS with the Russians? (If you do, pack me in your suitcase.)

I'm thrilled for Barbara Morgan and look forward to hearing more about her trip.
Posted By Michelle, St. Paul, MN : 1:37 PM ET
I disagree with you comments. Both of these programs go beyond publicity, to renew the interests in todays youth for a better tommorow. Kids today don't care about anything, but video games and violence. The vacuum of space is the ideal lab environment to study cures for desease and even global warming. These programs could renew the interest of our future generations into technologies that can help us overcome the challenges of tommorow.
Posted By Charles : 1:54 PM ET
Hello Miles,
it is nice to see you blog. Columbia's disaster was centered over my town. I will never forget the sound of Columbia exploding. I was like a nuclear explosion. the ceiling fans were swaying back and forth. It was extremely powerful and scary. At first I thought a passenger jet had blown. Then large pieces of metal, debris, and astronaut's suits came raining down. I even entertained some of the NASA investigators in my home who were stuck in my town for quite some time.
I believe that the shuttles are to old and not worth the risk in lives or money.
I am glad you are not going up in the shutle Miles. That program is too old and tired.
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 2:01 PM ET
Agreed. O'Brien's piece comes off as selfish and his motives were self-serving. Why should a journalist fly in space? If you want a ride into space, Miles, apply to NASA like everyone else.
Posted By Greggy D. : 2:55 PM ET
Miles/AC360:
I believe the biggest asset for NASA today would be to send a teacher and a journalist into space. Why? Americans have lost the love for space exploration.

NASA needs some good publicity but also personalities connected to the positive advancements related to looking beyond planet earth. Where is the younger generation's John Glen or Neil Armstrong?

After the Challenger and Columbia disasters, Americans are concerned not only about the costs of space travel but also the possibility of the loss of lives. But like anyone that is in the military (or even in the news industry), there are risks in any profession no matter if one is traveling to the space station or driving through a busy intersection.

In addition, the "competition" behind the space race really doesn't exist anymore. The idea of a little boy/girl growing up to be an astronaut is in competition the internet phenomenon and hi-tech computer games.

Do we really look at the stars and dream about what or who may be "out there?" Are we so diluted with Hollywood's version of space that we don't need to see it for ourselves anymore? Generations to come need great role models today like Barbara Morgan. (oh, and you too Miles!)

Also, I would hope space travel would continue to be space and scientific exploration. I would hate for space travel to become a "side show" for only the rich and famous.

Miles, you might want to consider freezing yourself for a decade or two. Maybe by then, a reporter may be allowed to travel into space without any hesitation.
Posted By Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 4:42 PM ET
In response to Greggy D.: why should a teacher fly in space? Did this teacher apply to NASA like everyone else?
Posted By Missy, Fairfield, CT : 5:32 PM ET
Can Anderson 'n Jeff join you in space? "Outer Space in Peril"? That would be so entertaining and informative.
Posted By DH Lake Barrington, IL : 5:46 PM ET
Having a dream and sharing it is never selfish. As a high school senior in 1986 I watched in disbelief with everyone in my school (as did many other school kids across the nation that day) the deaths of the Challenger astronauts. Christa McAuliffe was a positive role model for many of us and represented the hope that not just professional astronauts could fly into space. Barbara Morgan is also a positive role model and represents that same hope. I'm a public high school teacher, and if I could go into space I would. How cool to have outer space as a classroom and reach a nation of students! How cool that maybe one day space flight for everyone will be the reality! I think a space flight has got to be the ultimate assignment for a journalist, experiencing what no other reporter ever has firsthand. I hope our nation never forgets that going into space isn't just about the here and now, but about what we can do in future generations to expand our knowledge and experiences as a global community. Journalists and teachers very much need to be part of making that history and shaping those tomorrows.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 6:44 PM ET
Hi Miles,

Will Anderson Cooper join you if you ever got this gig?
Posted By Ratna, New York, NY : 7:01 PM ET
Admit it Miles, you just want to wear the diapers...

Potential astronauts are still chosen from a well-qualified (although, as we have seen with the astronaut love triangle incident, sometimes nutty) pool of individuals with engineering/scientific degrees and/or flight experience; the reason being that it's nice to have someone who can
1. Run the experiments
2. Fix the technical problems
3. Fly the shuttle
Anyone else is pretty much excess baggage.
Unless you want to enroll in MIT or fly fighter planes for the Airforce for a few years, don't get your hopes up, Miles.
Best to make friends with Burt Rutan (founder of Scaled Composites and godfather of Spaceship One) and spend some time schmoozing in Mojave where the future of space travel is really coming together.
With all due respect to some of my college friends who may still be working for NASA, the private for-pay space industry is well-poised to kick NASA's butt and render them obsolete, because it will be easier to award government contracts to private companies than to continue to fund a bloated, inefficient governmental agency.
And no, we don't need to send Anderson into space...he's got enough to do down here.
Posted By Julie San Diego, CA : 12:54 AM ET
Ouch...give Miles a break...can't a guy dream? and why not dream big...Hey Miles, you never know...
Posted By Anonymous : 2:03 AM ET
After reading the first two paragraphs of this blog, I knew you were the author, Miles, without scrolling down to see. With yor background in aviation, it would seem appropriate that you be the one selected to go, if any journalist were allowed to get on board. Don't give up hope. Time-Warner has tons of money and news competition is fierce; maybe they'll still get you in space somehow. Best of luck. P.S. I know I could never do it. My stomach turns upside down when I watch space walks on TV. :)
Posted By Gypsy, an American in Mexico : 3:57 AM ET
Miles,
I think it would have been great if you had been able to travel with NASA. It is obvious to anyone who watches your coverage of NASA that you have great respect and excitement for the program. I would have been very interested in learning more about the astronauts' training program, as well as what it is really like to fly in space. But, you never know, NASA could always have a change of heart. Never give up the dream.
Posted By Kimberly Miller; Lancaster, PA : 9:17 AM ET
Agreed - The Shuttle program is worn thin, a grand experiment that fell far short of the hopes. Virgin Galatic would be a ride worth reporting on from inside. Alas - even recent events with that project shows the dangerous potentials. 10 minutes - 10 days - weightless is weightless, and, where the future really is - private space programs.
Posted By JSvajdlenka : 9:27 AM ET
To answer Missy: Yes, Barbara went through the regular astronaut selection protocol, twice.
Posted By Anonymous : 1:43 PM ET
We were born on Earth, NOT in space. Things in space break and don't work and people DIE IN SPACE, 'cuz we weren't meant to be there. Silly fools!
Posted By Steven, Atlanta, GA : 2:46 PM ET
Who cares about space? We need to clean up our Earth/Mother Nature's help. We are slowly killing ourselves as we selfishly and literally consume the planet!!
Posted By Glenda, Ft. Lawderdale, Floralda : 2:51 PM ET
low-earth orbit is NOT AFAR. it's more like ANEAR hehehe!! now mabye Mars or the moon or jupiter/saturn might be considered "afar"
Posted By Mike, St. Louis, MO : 2:52 PM ET
Meee-OW people! While I don't understand the love some have of space, nor do I have a desire to travel there, I can appreciate that others dream about it. I'm sure all you who poo-pooed Miles have had your own hopes and dreams. I just hope no one was as rude as you about them. It's not selfish to wish you could accomplish a dream. It's one of the things that keeps us human. (Maybe you should try it.)
Posted By Joan, Lansing, MI : 3:58 PM ET
Thank you, Joan, Lansing, MI for being the *Blog Police*!! Sometimes folks here do get a little bit "pissy"!! LOL!
Posted By Mark, Sacramento, CA : 7:43 PM ET
Hey Joan,

Meow to you, kitty cat :-)

Did you ever consider that it's kind of an insult to those of us who got the engineering degrees or have the hours logged flying the fighter jets when we have to listen to someone wax philosophic about why they should be on a shuttle flight...even if they don't have the slightest clue how to program the robotic arm?

To use an analogy: just because I own a camcorder and can ham it up (quite well actually) for the camera, doesn't mean I belong on CNN.

Lord help us if they ever put me there. I wonder how they'd market "Martha Stewart's younger, mousier, slightly bohemian sister - all the attitude, without the prison rap sheet".

For my first show, I think I'd go to Iraq where I'd attempt to "win hearts and minds" by baking cookies in front of a mosque, dodging bullets in my fashionable bullet-proof vest I'd sewn using recycled oven mitts and crushed aluminum cans.

Attention FOX Producers: Your calls WILL NOT be returned.

Suffice it to say that Christianne Amanpour can breathe easily tonight. There's no way I'll be taking her job.

I'm still scratching my head wondering how Glenn Beck got his.

Maybe it's not sour grapes, just a little eye-rolling. An engineer who applied to be a reporter for CNN would get their resume tossed in the "round file" in an instant. Even Anderson, with his Poly Sci degree, couldn't get a job without paying his dues and working his way up in the field.

Why should it be different for anyone else (including Miles)?

So I'll make nice and share my catnip with you and others Joan, but don't expect me to fully retract the claws. When my extremely limited experience programming robot arms and doing work with NASA eclipses that of someone who has a "dream", I just have to say "keep smoking, dude."

FYI - I have no desire to leave Mother Earth, either. In the extremely unlikely event that NASA offered me a job, I'd give it to someone who wanted it - and who had the qualifications.

Have some catnip Joan. It will calm you down. Being realistic, pragmatic, practical - it doesn't mean being inhuman.
Posted By Julie San Diego, CA : 8:15 PM ET
Hi~ Miles :D Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall.I think, lucky is being ready for the chance. Even regular tasks can be made more interesting by turning them into challenges.... Barbara!! you did it... I admire your enthusiasm and dedication, which have made it possible.Really you are amazing.I really respect you.
Posted By jung-hae kim, seoul south korea : 9:57 AM ET
Hi Miles: I have always wanted to go into space also. I was so proud of Christa McCauliffe and was hoping to 'hook up' with her lessons as she broadcast them from space with my class.
Children today are not at all excited about space travel or exploring space and to me that's so sad. Seeking and learning about the universe is still tremendously exciting to me!
I watched with trepidation as Endeavour blasted off this time and was so relieved that it succeeded. I am so very proud of Barbara Morgan and hope that she can indeed spark interest in this most exciting 'endeavour'. Go Barbara!
Posted By Sharon Cunningham, Canada : 1:07 AM ET
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