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Space shuttle Endeavour fueled and ready for evening launch with teacher-astronaut aboard

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With good weather forecast for launch time, NASA fueled space shuttle Endeavour in preparation for a Wednesday evening liftoff and the climax of a two-decade wait for teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan.
    In 1986, Morgan was Christa McAuliffe’s backup for the Challenger flight, the shuttle mission that was meant to send NASA’s first teacher into space. Morgan was watching a few miles from the launch pad when the Challenger exploded barely a minute into flight.
    Many of the other educators who had competed with McAuliffe and Morgan to become the first teacher in space were in Florida on Wednesday to watch Endeavour finally take one of their own into orbit.
    ‘‘I think the great thing about it is that people will be thinking about Challenger and thinking about all the hard work lots of folks over many years have done to continue their mission,’’ Morgan, 55, said last month.
    NASA pumped more than 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the ship’s tank Wednesday ahead of the 6:36 p.m. liftoff.
    Among Endeavour’s seven crew members, Morgan had attracted much of the attention.
    ‘‘Barbara deserves a lot of recognition for her interest, her toughness, her resiliency, her persistence in wanting to fly in space and eventually doing so,’’ NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told The Associated Press on Wednesday. ‘‘I’m glad she’s on this flight.’’
    Griffin said he had not spoken with McAuliffe’s family about Morgan’s launch, but did meet Tuesday night with several members of the other Challenger astronaut families.
    ‘‘They seem to regard Barbara as one of them, or one of their people,’’ he said. ‘‘They didn’t act like they came to see another tragedy. They didn’t seem more worried. They’re here to celebrate her having a chance to fly.’’
    Among them is the widow of Challenger’s commander, who called Morgan a role model for students because of her patience and perseverance in following her dream.
    ‘‘The Challenger crew — my husband Dick Scobee, the teacher Christa McAuliffe — they would be so happy with Barbara Morgan. They’d be excited for her, they’d be proud of her and her following through with the mission for the teacher to fly in space,’’ said June Scobee Rodgers, founding chairman of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
    The astronauts are slated to spend two weeks at the international space station on a mission to continue construction of the orbiting outpost. They will attach a new truss segment to the space station, replace a gyroscope that helps control the station’s orientation, and deliver 5,000 pounds of cargo.
    Endeavour was initially scheduled to lift off Tuesday but was delayed for a day because NASA had to replace a leaky valve in the crew cabin.
    The mission’s astronauts included a Canadian doctor, a chemist who knows sign language and is a former competitive sprinter and long jumper, and a commander whose identical twin brother is also a shuttle pilot.
    Morgan, who in 1998 became the first teacher to join the astronaut corps — trained to conduct tasks on a mission, rather than to fly as a guest as McAuliffe had planned — is scheduled to operate Endeavour’s robot arm and oversee the transfer of cargo from the shuttle into the station.
    First lady Laura Bush called her Tuesday to congratulate her. While in space, Morgan also plans to answer questions from schoolchildren.
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