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Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan answers students' questions in space

Today NASA fulfilled a longstanding dream of a teacher talking to students from space. After days of anxiety about a gouge in the belly of the shuttle Endeavour, NASA finally got good news: tests suggested repairs may not be needed.

Space agency managers said they were cautiously optimistic that they would not have to send two spacewalking astronauts to repair the gash, which is about the length and width of a business card. A sliver of the wound penetrates through a pair of inch-deep (2.5 centimeter) thermal tiles, exposing a thin felt fabric that is the final barrier before the shuttle's aluminum frame.

But thermal analyses have so far shown Endeavour could safely return to Earth as it is, said John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team. All the testing and analyses should be completed by Wednesday.

In another positive development, two decades after Christa McAuliffe's doomed Challenger mission, her backup in the teacher-in-space program carried out the dream of an educator turning the space shuttle into a classroom.

Teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan took questions and spoke to hundreds of youngsters packed into the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, less than 100 miles(161 kilometers) from the elementary school where Morgan taught before joining the astronaut corps.

One child wanted to know about exercising in space. In response, Morgan lifted the two large men floating alongside her, one in each hand, and pretended to be straining. Another youngster wanted to see a demonstration of drinking in space. Morgan and her colleagues obliged by squeezing bubbles from a straw in a drink pouch and swallowing the red blobs, which floated everywhere.

Morgan was also asked how being a teacher compared to being an astronaut.

"Astronauts and teachers actually do the same thing," she answered. "We explore, we discover and we share. And the great thing about being a teacher is you get to do that with students, and the great thing about being an astronaut is you get to do it in space, and those are absolutely wonderful jobs."

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