PRIEST RIVER — It took 28 years, five days and seven attempts, but Priest River Elementary teacher Chris Naccarato’s persistence finally paid off.
Idaho’s famous astronaut, Barbara Morgan, agreed to be the guest for Naccarato’s annual Space Day event last Friday, marking a milestone for PRE.
“When I first started bringing astronauts to the school, somebody told me once, ‘You will never be able to bring an astronaut to the school, and if you do, you might get one,’” Naccarato said. “Today, astronaut Morgan makes number 45.”
While some of those 45 have been return visits by astronauts like John Phillips, Tom Jones, Steve Swanson and Mike Mullane, a number of astronauts have visited the school since Naccarato started NACA, the National Astronaut in the Classroom program. He implemented NACA shortly after he began teaching at PRE.
During the program, Naccarato said chasing a dream, goal or objective is like being on a staircase. However, he said, life doesn’t start you at the bottom, but rather in the middle with a decision whether to go up or down. While going down might be safer, he said, going up will take you toward those dreams, goals or objectives. It was in going up the staircase and not giving up that Naccarato reached his goal of having Morgan, as well as the many other astronauts, visit the school.
Morgan, who followed up on the staircase topic, told the kids there will be times when people might tell them they are not good enough, not smart enough, or not tall enough to accomplish their dreams, goals or objectives. Morgan said she likes to look at things from a perspective that, while it may be something she can’t do now, it is an opportunity to learn and accomplish it in the future. After relaying stories and sharing photos of her time in space, Morgan left the kids with some more encouraging words before they made their way out to the school field for the traditional rocket launch.
“Whatever you want to be in life, whatever you want to do when you grow up, whatever you want to be ... set your mind to it, work really hard, and don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do that,” Morgan said. “Keep reaching for your dreams — the sky is no limit.”
An elementary school teacher since 1974, Morgan was selected as the backup candidate for NASA’s Teacher in Space Program in 1985. She spent the next year training with Astronaut Christa McAullife and the rest of the 1986 Challenger crew. All seven crew members, including McAullife were killed in 1986 when the Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. Morgan assumed the Teacher in Space duties and returned to Idaho to continue her teaching career. She was later selected by NASA as a mission specialist and the first Educator Astronaut participant in 1998, completing her first space flight in 2007 aboard the STS-118, an assembly mission to the International Space Station.
In a regional connection, NASA astronaut Anne McClain was born and raised in Spokane. McClain is now working on the International Space Station, so her mom, Charlotte Lamp, made her way to Priest River from Spokane for Friday’s event. Some of Naccarato’s students are heading to Gonzaga Prep in Spokane this week to attend a video chat with McClain from the space station.
To honor and thank Morgan for her dedicated service to Idaho students as a teacher and astronaut, Mayor Jim Martin declared May 10, 2019, “Barbara Morgan Day” in Priest River. The proclamation was officially read by Martin during the May 6 City Council meeting. He again read and presented the proclamation to Morgan during her visit at the school on Friday.
“This is a big, big honor ... thank you very much,” Morgan said, turning to the kids and adding, “Not every town or city in this country would have the mayor come to the school and be with all of you on a very special day, so I think that really says a lot.”
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.