Cape Canaveral, FL (CBS/AP) - Space shuttle Endeavour blasted off Wednesday carrying teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan, who after more than two decades is finally carrying out 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., right on time, and pierced a solidly blue sky. They're expected to reach the international space station in two days.
"Good luck, godspeed and have some fun up there," launch director Michael Leinbach said.
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.
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."
Griffin knows better than most that NASA could lose another teacher in flight.
"Every time we fly I know that we can lose a crew," he told The Associated Press hours before the launch. "That occupies a large portion of my thoughts. Unless we're going to get out of the manned space flight business, that thought is going to be with me every time we fly."
The launch culminated a day of preparation by NASA.
Working by remote control, engineers at the Kennedy Space Center began pumping a half-million gallons of super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel into the shuttle Endeavour's external tank early Wednesday, setting the stage for launch at 6:36:42 p.m., reports CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood.
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