Weekly Feature

2007-11-28 / Front Page

First teacher in space to visit Mill Middle School

NASA flight director to speak at alma mater
by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

In August, NASA made history once again by completing a mission with the first teacher in space. And keeping a watchful eye on the shuttle was an Amherst native, named a first director for the mission.

Barbara Morgan was a mission specialist on STS-118 20 years after joining the Teacher in Space Project, now the Educator Astronaut Project. Morgan became the first teacher in space this past summer.

The lead shuttle flight director for the mission was Williamsville South graduate Matthew R. Abbott, who joined NASA in 1983. This was his second flight as a director.

He said his assignment included working with a large team of people, and making sure they are all coordinated.

"There are a lot more people involved than just the astronauts," he said.

Abbott and Morgan will be sharing their experiences and perspective on the mission at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Mill Middle School, 505 Mill St., in the auditorium.

"The most significant thing about STS-118 was the fact that it had a little bit of everything in it," Abbott said.

He elaborated, saying the mission included adding a truss structure to the "backbone" of the International Space Station. Also, some repair work was done on the ISS, as well as adding supplies.

The crew on the ground keeps a constant eye on the mission through monitors. Abbott said mission control operates on three shifts a day, about eight hours each, with some overlapping time to bring the next shift up to date. As a shuttle flight director during one of the three shifts, he leads a team of flight controllers.

"Every day had its intense periods, since every day had major tasks in it. There was really no time to relax until Endeavour and the astronauts were safely on the ground again," he said about working in mission control. "One very unique thing about STS-118 was that we shortened the mission by one day due to the threat to Houston of Hurricane Dean. Once a successful mission is over it's a tremendous feeling of pride and accomplishment for everyone involved."

Morgan first joined NASA 20 years ago as a backup for Christa McAuliffe, who lost her life in the 1986 Challenger accident. Morgan continued with the program, speaking around the country.

She returned to teaching for 12 years, and in 1998 was offered the opportunity to train to be an astronaut through the Educator Astronaut Project. She became a mission specialist in 2002, and her first flight was in August.

She will share her NASA experiences during the Dec. 4 presentation.

Abbott will be returning home, something he said he is looking forward to. Stationed at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, he said he wishes he could relocate the center to Western New York.

"I love the area. I miss the people and weather," he said.

Since leaving Amherst, Abbott has remained connected to the community. A few years ago, through the efforts of Mill Middle School science teacher Kenneth Huff, Abbott participated in a live broadcast from the space station with Mill pupils.

He spoke in WNY before, a couple of years ago at Mill Middle, South High School and the University at Buffalo about his work with NASA.

"I really love what I do; no two days are alike, and even though the work can be extremely challenging, the 'can do' attitude and dedication of the team is amazing. It's a great thing to be a part of something that I believe is so important to our country and to the whole planet," he said.

Abbott attended Mill Middle as well as South High School. He is a member of the Williamsville Wall of Fame.

He attended UB and received a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 1985.

He has several honors and recognitions to his credit and has worked on several NASA projects.

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