News MIDDAY UPDATE: Teacher-astronaut to speak with kids as NASA mulls shuttle repairs; tropical storm forms far out in Atlantic

HOUSTON — The day has come for Barbara Morgan to fulfill the legacy teacher Christa McAuliffe dreamed of: Talking to students from space.

Today, Morgan will speak with students in Idaho, where she taught elementary classes before moving to Houston in 1998 to become the first teacher to train as a full-fledged astronaut. She finally launched into space on Aug. 8 aboard the shuttle Endeavour, after a two-decade wait.

Morgan was McAuliffe’s backup for Challenger’s doomed mission in 1986.

A list of topics Mission Control sent her earlier this week included questions from children about what it’s like to be weightless, how the crew gets clean air aboard the shuttle, and what stars look like from space.

Meanwhile, a team of NASA experts was evaluating whether astronauts should fix a deep gash on the Endeavour’s belly before the crew returns home. Another team of experts was put together to pick and perfect the best way to fix the gouge and avoid extensive post-flight repairs. A decision was expected by Wednesday.

The gouge is relatively small — 3 inches by 2 inches — and the damage is benign enough for Endeavour to fly safely home. But part of it penetrates through the protective thermal tiles, leaving just a thin layer of coated felt over the space shuttle’s aluminum frame to keep out the more than 2,000-degree heat of re-entry. Fixing any resulting structural damage could be expensive and time-consuming.

To patch the gouge, spacewalking astronauts would have to perch on the end of the shuttle’s 100-foot robotic arm and extension boom, be maneuvered under the spacecraft, apply protective black paint and then squirt in a caulk-like goop.

Mission Control told the crew late Monday that officials had ruled out a third repair technique involving a protective plate that could be screwed over the damage.

All three techniques were developed following Columbia’s catastrophic re-entry, and NASA has never attempted this type of repair on an orbiting shuttle. Only the black paint has been tested in space.

- Associated Press

Tropical Storm Dean forms in open Atlantic, far from land

MIAMI — Tropical Storm Dean formed in the open Atlantic on Tuesday, but remained far from land, forecasters said.

At 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 1,490 miles east of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, about halfway across the ocean from Africa, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had top sustained winds of 40 mph, just above the threshold to be a named storm.

Dean was moving over increasingly warmer waters, where atmospheric conditions could create a favorable environment for intensification into a hurricane by Friday, forecasters said. It was cruising west at about 23 mph. Forecasters said it is too early to tell where Dean will go.

Hurricanes sustain winds of at least 74 mph.

Hurricane forecasters expect this year’s Atlantic hurricane season to be busier than average. Last week, they said up to 16 tropical storms are likely to form, with nine strengthening into hurricanes.

The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but August typically marks the start of the most active period. Ten tropical storms developed in the Atlantic last year, but only two made landfall in the United States.

- Associated Press

What's cooking for Wednesday

- We'll bring you everything you need to know about Tuesday's runoff election to decide the remaining city council seats.

- Macon Police believe the bank robbery suspect shot dead Monday may be connected to other robberies in the area.

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