BOISE -- One person in Boise will be watching the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour with extra focus and a bit of nostalgia. That is because Barbara Morgan blasted off in that spaceship nearly four years ago.
Idaho's Teacher in Space thinks back fondly on her time in orbit.
"I do look up and think about it, and you kind of pinch yourself 'cause it is hard to imagine," said retired astronaut Barbara Morgan.
She carried on the legacy of Christa McAuliffe, whom NASA chose to be the first teacher in space.
McAuliffe and her six crewmates died when the Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into the mission in 1986.
"Christa McAuliffe was, is and always will be our teacher in space. She led the way," said Morgan.
And Morgan followed. In the summer of 2007, 21 years after being McAuliffe's back-up, the former McCall-Donnelly Elementary School teacher rocketed into space aboard Endeavour.
"If you're nervous about anything it's that, are you totally ready to do your job and do it well," said Morgan.
Her job was to help the crew with construction of the International Space Station, and, as "teacher in space," to inspire young minds.
WIth evident joy in her face she shared this story of how the all-consuming blackness of space, the quiet and the moon developed into a picture that is now burned in her mind.
"And off in that blackness of space just above the horizon was a crescent moon and it just seemed like it would be so easy to yank hard on the tiller, take a right turn and head straight for the moon," she said.
And now as Endeavour goes on its final mission, Morgan will watch with a mixture of sadness, nostalgia and pride.
"There's a time for everybody to retire and the shuttles are no exception to that, said Morgan. "Short-term we won't have something like the shuttle that launches people and cargo and lands."
The country will be watching with more interest as well, but much of that because of the mission's commander, Mark Kelly. He's the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a bullet to the head from the gun of a would-be assassin. Even with all that that involves, Morgan still strongly believes Kelly is the right person to lead the mission. She knows them both.
"Yeah, yeah, Mark is incredible and Gabby Giffords is absolutely incredible," Morgan said. "And I know that he is doing what he needs to do and he is doing what Gabby would want him to do, too."
What he'll be doing is carrying on the legacy of the shuttle program. To Morgan that legacy includes the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, international cooperation and, of course, the remarkable flying machine that can go into space over and over again.
In June, one last shuttle launch. Atlantis will provide the now familiar, but still fantastic, lift-off fireworks.
"It's sad that the shuttle is ending, but it's not the end of our space exploration program," said Morgan.
The Obama administration wants private industry to develop the U-S space ships of the future. Morgan hopes our leaders don't take too long to decide where the next destination "out there" will be.
"If you have a destination that you're going to, the engineering, the designing, everything that you're doing has a better focus, and I think it's more accomplishable in a shorter time frame," said Morgan.
Morgan retired from NASA and is now in her third year as Distinguished Educator in Residence at
Boise State University. Her focus? "Making sure that we have people that are interested and knowledgeable and excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Morgan.
Perhaps, those will be the next generation of boys and girls who look up at the moon, planets and stars and say 'I want to go there.' And Morgan is not worried that it won't be a shuttle taking them.
"I don't want the kids to even think that way, because there are other opportunities coming along."
The Endeavour launch is scheduled for 1:47pm Mountain Time Friday. NBC plans to broadcast it live in a special report.
When all is said and done, the Endeavour will be displayed permanently at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.