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Senator's Possible Space Flight Clouds Teacher-In-Space Plan

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Washington--A teacher will be the first "citizen observer" in space, officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said at a press conference here last week, even though a U.S. Senator may be scheduled as a passenger well before the teacher is selected.

nasa officials called the press conference in order to release the final requirements and application procedures for the nasa Teacher in Space Project, but spent much of the time answering questions about who would ride the space shuttle first--a teacher, as President Reagan promised last August, or Senator Jake Garn of Utah, a Republican who chairs a subcomittee with control over nasa's budget.

Senator Garn's office had announced the day before the press conference that the Senator had accepted an invitation to become the first public official in space. He has told nasa officials that he would like to be on the space shuttle for its February flight, according to the Senator's press secretary.

The selection procedure for the Teacher in Space Project is scheduled for completion in September 1985, and thus the finalist probably will not be scheduled for a space trip until 1986, according to William Pierce, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. nasa has contracted with the ccsso to oversee the selection process for the project.

Management Role

Senator Garn's space trip does not conflict with the President's announcement that a teacher would be the first citizen in space, Patrick Templeton, a spokesman for nasa, told reporters at the press conference.

"Senator Garn will be on an inspection visit in a management role--a role with ample precedent," Mr. Templeton said. "There is clearly no conflict; it is a different category."

According to Mr. Templeton, an executive from a private corporation and a civilian employee of the Defense Department have flown on the space shuttle in such a capacity.

Any chairman of a Congressional committee overseeing nasa operations also would be considered for participation in a space-shuttle mission, Mr. Templeton said, adding that Senator Garn was invited to become the first public official to fly on a shuttle mission because of his longstanding interest in the program.

"I'm still pinching myself," the Senator said at a press conference in Salt Lake City last week. "Obviously, with the amount of training I have, I will not be a mission commander or pilot."

Senator Garn is a retired colonel in the Utah Air National Guard and has logged more than 10,000 flight hours as a pilot. nasa officials said only one current astronaut has more flight time.

Requirements for Teachers

As outlined by nasa officials and Mr. Pierce, the Teacher in Space Project is open to elementary and secondary teachers in all public and nondiscriminatory private schools in the United States, U.S. territories, Department of Defense overseas dependents' schools, Department of State overseas schools, and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. To qualify for the program, a teacher must be a U.S. citizen; must have been a full-time classroom teacher for the past five years; must meet defined medical requirements; and may not be a spouse of a current or former nasa employee.

All applications received will be screened to eliminate those not meeting the basic requirements. Remaining applications will be forwarded to state review panels, which will evaluate the proposals and select two teachers per state as nominees.

From the state-level nominees, a national review panel will recommend 10 teachers as semifinalists for consideration by an evaluation committee made up of seven senior nasa officials.

The semifinalists will travel to nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston for thorough medical examinations, in-depth briefings, and interviews by the nasa evaluation committee. On the basis of the physical examinations and the interviews, the evaluation committee will recommend five finalists. The nasa administrator, with the help of the evaluation committee, will select the primary and back-up candidates to undergo training for the space flight.

To request an application packet, teachers should write to the nasa Teacher in Space Project, Council of Chief State School Officers, 400 North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 379, Washington, D.C. 20001. Applications will be available on Dec. 1 and must be received by Feb. 1, 1985.


Editorial Assistant Pamela Winston contributed to this article.

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