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Letters between women space teachers increase China-U.S. bond

By Peter Mertz, Guo Shuang (Xinhua)

20:41, June 20, 2013

LOS ANGELES, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Minutes after woman astronaut Wang Yaping gained global recognition by delivering a lecture from space to millions of awestruck students in China, she was back to work.

She was writing a "thank you" note to her biggest fan -- the first American teacher in space, Barbara Morgan, who sent Wang a letter "of honor and love" as she hurtled into space days before.

"Thank you for your care and good wishes," Wang replied. "We also want to extend to you our admiration and respect for what you have done for manned space programs and for education as well."

Morgan, 61, who taught a class from the International Space Station in 2007, could hardly contain her happiness for the 33-year-old air force pilot from Yantai in eastern China's Shandong province.

"On behalf of teachers and students around the world, I send you greetings of honor and love as you orbit our Earth and prepare to teach your lessons from space," Morgan wrote to Wang in her letter, which was attached to an email to Xinhua, because she wanted to share it with "Yaping and all the people of China" through the agency's reports.

"All over the world, we are really very excited," she said.

Morgan spent 25 years teaching young children in poor areas of the world after graduating from Stanford University in 1973, years before Wang was born.

On Thursday, Wang responded from the Tiangong-1 Space Station, some 300 km above the clouds, to her new friend and role model.

"I hope you and all of the teachers and students elsewhere on Earth enjoyed the lecture," Wang said, adding she hoped they had shared "the majesty and beauty of outer space, and the joy of learning new things."

Wang's 45-minute lecture Thursday morning vaulted China into an elite class of two countries who have lectured in space and broadcast back to millions on Earth.

The live telecast was watched by more than 60 million teachers and students at about 80,000 schools, Chinese officials said.

Eighteen years ago, Morgan showed students how to exercise and drink water in space. Thursday, Wang gave a fascinating lesson that included demonstrating the behavior of liquids in zero gravity -- while she was floating in the spacecraft's cabin.

China's second woman in space also showed students how zero gravity made a small ball tied with a string move in a circular fashion and not move like a pendulum, as it would on the earth.

In her response to Morgan, Wang emphasized the children.

"We would like to join the efforts, as you have done, to bring science-loving youth around the world closer to their dreams of exploring the universe," she said.

John Yee, 91, who taught history for 30 years in Denver, Colorado, and was born in Kunming City in southwest China's Yunnan province, was especially excited about the prospect of millions of Chinese children being inspired in the field of science -- something he thinks may result from the broadcast.

"It's also very thrilling for teachers in China and the United States to share a common bond," Yee said, referring to the connection between Morgan and Wang.

At the University of Arizona, Timothy Swindle, director of planetary sciences and geosciences, agreed on the impact of conducting a class from space.

"It is an amazing experience for the students to have this famous astronaut answering their questions," Swindle said, "It is important for young people to realize that the people doing these incredible things are real people, and to inspire them to try to become one of those people."

From the University of California in Los Angeles, astronomer Michael Rich echoed Yee's idea of space being used educationally as "outreach (that) inspires the young generation ... The more excitement and communication, the better," Rich said.

In Washington, D.C., Frank Slazer, president of the American Astronautical Society, whose group has deep connections to NASA and represents the American aerospace community, emphasized the use of science as a tool for detente.

"China and the United States have a great record of cooperation when it comes down to science and scientific discovery. This is a good step," Slazer said, "Space is a big motivator to advance a better understanding of our world."

In her letter to Wang, Morgan wrote: "You will be very busy up there, but please remember to take time to look out the window. China and all of this world are beautiful."

Wang heeded her predecessor's advice and responded to the request directly.

"During our ongoing flight, I have frequently gazed upon our beautiful home Earth through the window of our space module," Wang replied.

At NASA, Morgan was selected to backup Christa McAuliffe for the NASA Teacher in Space Project in 1985. McAuliffe was killed after the fiery explosion and death of all six astronauts in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster. But Morgan finally got her chance 21 years later, and became the first American teacher in space aboard the Endeavor shuttle.

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