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Shuttle Diplomacy

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With a little help from their imaginations and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, two groups of Ohio elementary-school students became the newest veterans of the space shuttle program.

On May 30, 26 1st through 5th graders blasted off for outer-space exploration in two transformed school buses outfitted with coats of fresh white paint, welded nose cones, rocket engines, and on-board laboratories for conducting zero-gravity experiments.

The students--18 from the Royal View Elementary School in North Royalton, and eight from the Belden Elementary School in Grafton--set off on their missions to the sounds of loud cheers from crowds assembled in the schools' parking lots.

"I've always wanted to be an astronaut, from watching movies like Star Trek," said Larry Zajac, a Royal View 5th grader who served as flight photographer on Royal View's Fantasy I shuttle. During the mission, the 11-year-old said, "I learned what a real astronaut had to go through to train, and the excitement of pre-flight, flight, and after the flight."

Fire extinguishers provided the cloud of lift-off smoke for the Fantasy I, in keeping with the mission's aim of "simulating a shuttle launch" as closely as possible, said L. Jack Thomas, superintendent of the North Royalton city schools.

Among the launch spectators were teachers, students, parents and area residents who had worked for six weeks to ready the spaceships for the voyage. Many of the shuttles' supplies were donated by local businesses, Mr. Thomas said.

Flight experts at nasa's Lewis Research Center in nearby Cleveland provided technical assistance to each crew. R. Lynn Bondurant, chief of educational services at the nasa center, dreamed up the space shuttle project with the assistance of school administrators.

The flight plan of the successful missions called for the shuttles to rendezvous at a local park midway between the two schools, where mission captains exchanged greetings and gifts and the crews conducted experiments. The Fantasy I then soared on to visit the alien land of Belden Elementary School, while the USS Belden-Midview Starship set its course for the Royal View Elementary School.

Belden students wore masks to greet the Fantasy I space explorers, who took water and soil samples and queried the natives to see if they understood English, said Belden's principal, Donna Lynch.

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