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Lessons From Space

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Space, the final ... classroom?

The space shuttle Columbia, scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., this week, will introduce a new twist to the usual middle-school science class--the first science lesson beamed from outer space.

As part of a pilot program created by the education office of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the space shuttle's crew will translate the fruits of its mission into a lesson plan for Earth-bound science students.

The lesson plan for "Space Classroom, Assignment: The Stars" grows out of the crew's regular duties on the mission, dubbed "Astro 1."

During the nine-day flight--now delayed several times by technical difficulties--the seven-member shuttle crew will use specially designed telescopes on board the craft to take ultraviolet and X-ray measurements of more than 200 galactic nuclei, quasars, and other celestial objects.

Barring complications, five days into the flight two crew members, Ronald A. Parise and Robert A.R. Parker, will conduct a 20-minute live lecture and demonstration on the electromagnetic spectrum from the cabin of the Columbia.

The on-board demonstration will be followed by a second lecture given by crew members to students gathered at nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Then the students at Marshall, along with others gathered at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will have an opportunity to pose questions directly to the Columbia shuttle crew.

The lesson, slated to be carried live on nasa's television system and some cable-television systems, will later be packaged in video format for classroom use.

This first installment of "Space Classroom," one of 160 programs conducted by the nasa education office, has received widespread attention from educators, says Terri Sindelar, a spokesman for the education office. More than 10,000 teacher guides have been distributed nationwide, she says.

If this mission is rated a success, inquisitive students can probably look forward to future stellar performances from the Columbia crew, Ms. Sindelar says.--skg

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