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A Flight of Fancy

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Five students at the Ashe County Career Center in Jefferson, N.C., are preparing themselves to experience the cramped conditions, exhausting schedules, bland diets--and, perhaps, some of the almost unimaginable exhilaration--of flying on the space shuttle.

The high-school students plan to use computers, inventive gadgetry, and their imaginations to conduct a simulation of the flight of the shuttle Atlantis, which is scheduled to be launched April 28.

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration begins its countdown to lift off, "mission control" at the school will do the same for its shuttle Victoria--a windowless classroom.

At blast off, computer software in the classroom will simulate the shuttle's launch and "roll maneuvers." Then, for the next five days, the student astronauts will eat, sleep, conduct experiments, and launch a satellite just as the crew of the Atlantis will do.

And when the time comes to release the satellite and "space walk," the students will approximate the sensation of weightlessness by suspending themselves in harnesses hanging from the ceiling.

The classroom "shuttle" has been modified to resemble the Atlantis, with its two floors, cabin, and payload bay, according to Robert Calhoun, a media-communications teacher at the center and the originator of the project.

The crew of the Victoria will be in constant electronic communication with "mission control." And, through the "Space Link" telecommunications system, students will be able to follow the status of the real shuttle and every detail of the astronauts' activities.

Basically, said Mr. Calhoun, "we'll be able to monitor the astronauts 24 hours a day."--jw

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