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NASA Decision Due This Month on 'Teacher in Space' Program

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Washington

Senior officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are expected to meet this month to decide the fate of the agency's decade-old "teacher in space'' program.

Alan Ladwig, a senior policy adviser to NASA's administrator, Daniel S. Goldin, said in a recent interview that a committee of 13 of the agency's assistant administrators would present its recommendations to Mr. Goldin no later than the end of the year.

He said that NASA would like to make a decision as soon as possible, but that the committee meetings will have to be scheduled around a space-shuttle launch set for July 8 and ceremonies commemorating the 25th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing later this month.

A second teacher-in-space mission has been on "indefinite hold'' since January 1986, when the shuttle Challenger exploded over Cape Canaveral 73 seconds after launch.

The accident killed Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire middle school teacher who was to have conducted a series of lessons from earth orbit, as well as the shuttle's crew of six astronauts.

NASA officials have since debated whether to slate Barbara Morgan, Ms. McAuliffe's back-up and the current teacher-in-space designee, for a future mission.

Mr. Ladwig said there is a consensus within NASA that the program has been in limbo for too long.

"I think this year we need to resolve it one way or another to keep things from dragging on,'' he said. "And, to be fair to Barbara Morgan, I think she would like to have a decision fairly soon, too.''

Safety Concerns

Adm. Richard Truly, Mr. Goldin's predecessor, declared before he resigned NASA's top post in 1992 that the shuttle is safe and that another teacher-in-space mission should proceed.

But the program, though still popular among educators, had largely slipped from the headlines until late June, when Mr. Ladwig was quoted in news reports as saying in an interview with the editorial board of the Concord Monitor in New Hamshire that he was "inclined to recommend'' that it be revitalized.

His remarks caused a minor controversy when Grace Corrigan, Ms. McAuliffe's mother, responded to the published accounts. She argued that the program should be terminated because Ms. McAuliffe had "accomplished her mission.''

Mr. Ladwig's comments also seemed to conflict with remarks Mr. Goldin made earlier this year at the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association.

In response to a question from an Education Week reporter, Mr. Goldin said that the teacher-in-space program should not be a priority for NASA and that it could detract from other education initiatives. (See Education Week, Feb. 3, 1993.)

Mr. Ladwig--who formerly managed the space-flight participant program, which includes both teacher-in-space activities and the less well-known journalist-in-space program--said he had stressed in his New Hampshire interview that Mr. Goldin has the final word.

He said the committee will discuss whether there is still a need for a formal teacher-in-space program, noting that many shuttle missions include a formal educational component, including lessons taught by astronauts. The officials will also address the question of the shuttle's safety, he said.

At the N.S.T.A. meeting, Mr. Goldin said he was concerned about the risks of flying another civilian on the shuttle. NASA estimates that there is a 1-in-75 risk that any given shuttle could suffer a fate similar to Challenger's.

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