She has soared through space at 5 miles per second, taught hundreds of elementary school students and provided vision and leadership for the state’s science and technology education programs.
Now she is the first recipient of Idaho’s top civilian honor for service.
“It is uniquely fitting that the first recipient of Idaho’s highest civilian honor goes to a pioneering educator who brought the promise of space flight to our students from a classroom above the clouds,” Otter said in a statement. “Her career as an educator and then an astronaut has inspired a generation of young people not only about the importance of science but how high you can go when you aspire to do great things.”
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Morgan was an elementary teacher in McCall before joining NASA’s Teacher in Space program. She flew on the Endeavour space shuttle in 2007. She served as distinguished teacher in residence at Boise State University.
Morgan is recovering from a broken femur and got around the Statehouse with crutches and a wheelchair.
Otter created the award by executive order in November 2015 to recognize individual Idahoans for their “exceptional, meritorious, and inspirational” service to the people of Idaho.
He selected four citizens to review and recommend candidates: former Idaho Chief Justice Linda Copple Trout, former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Idaho Business for Education Chairman Skip Oppenheimer and Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho board member Kirk Sullivan.
Coeur d’Alene’s Hecla Mining Co. provided the silver for the medal, which is made of 99.9 percent fine silver and weighs 19.7 troy ounces. It features a relief carving of the Idaho Capitol on the front and the Idaho state seal on the back.
Morgan’s ‘little space story’
After Otter placed the weighty medal around her neck, Morgan told Otter and guests “a little space story.”
While flying over the Indian Ocean at 5 miles per second, she said, she could see a couple dozen isolated thunderstorms scattered across the ocean.
“It was pitch black until one of those isolated thunderheads let loose a bolt of lightning and that flash caused another thunderstorm miles away to let loose its bolt of lightning and that caused another one and another one and another one.
“All across the Indian Ocean it was flash, flash, flash, pop, pop, pop. Amazing energy. And then it got dark. Pitch black again. And then a few seconds later the same thing happened all over again, only it was from a different corner of the Indian Ocean. The same thing, all across the Indian Ocean — flash, flash, flash, pop, pop, pop.
“It was amazing to see how all of these thunderstorms were all connected with each other. I realized there is no such thing as isolated thunderstorms. Another thing I realized is nothing is isolated when you see it from space.
“Back here in Idaho it is exactly the same. We are all connected. We are family. We take care of each other and — flash, flash, flash, pop, pop, pop — we teach our children and their dreams come alive.”