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Shuttle's Earth-Science Mission Makes Strong School Connection

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Chris Lazardi, who teaches chemistry, and three of his students spent several days in Death Valley, Calif., earlier this year doing their part to prepare for this month's flight of the space shuttle Endeavour.

Mr. Lazardi, who teaches at South Gate High School in Los Angeles, said he and his students helped set up mirrors in the desert to allow Endeavour's crew to calibrate components of the space-radar laboratory, a sophisticated, international equipment package the crew is using to create detailed maps of Earth's surface and atmosphere.

Mr. Lazardi is one of a nationwide team of amateur researchers, about 2,000 in all, who helped the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the ground-based portions of the mission.

The volunteer teams, ranging from a few people to 100, surveyed vegetation, soil, and weather conditions to verify whether the radar is accurate.

"Students hear about NASA, but now they're part of the program,'' Sean Davidson, a biology teacher at Riverside High School in Durham, N.C., told The Associated Press.

Mr. Davidson and 24 students helped to survey North Carolina's Duke Forest as part of the mission.

The Endeavour, which took off April 9 for its nine-day mission after mechanical and weather delays, is part of NASA's "Mission to Planet Earth'' program, which is designed to study Earth's environment and provide data for those working on environmental problems.

Education, the Next Frontier

In addition to conducting ground-breaking environmental science, the mission had one of the space program's strongest educational components, in keeping with NASA's renewed emphasis on its educational outreach.

Daniel S. Goldin, the administrator of NASA, told the National Science Teachers Association's annual meeting this month that owing to the substantial budget cuts at the agency and the end of the "space race'' with the former Soviet Union, NASA intends to put more emphasis on the educational aspects of its missions. (See Education Week, April 13, 1994.)

Mr. Lazardi, for example, said he found out about the Endeavour mission at a teachers' workshop on radar imaging that was conducted by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Several gifted high-school students, meanwhile, developed a training manual for the Endeavour astronauts that detailed the expected state of the environment during the mission.

The students were part of the Challenge Awards program, which is jointly administered by the NASA laboratory and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

They helped compile a compact disk of information about the mission for teachers and visited the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston to discuss the status of the mission with the astronauts.

Endeavour astronauts used ham radio to speak with students as part of the Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment program, a feature of several previous missions.

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