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For Release: Oct. 15, 1996

Michael Finneran

NASA Langley (757) 864-6121

Betsy Overkamp-Smith

York County Schools (757) 898-0391

Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck

Newport News Schools (757) 591-4507

RELEASE NO. 96-169

Local Schools To Take Part in NASA Mission


Two Hampton Roads middle schools will take part in a NASA mission in which students using the Internet can call down photos shot by the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it orbits Earth in a flight planned for January.

The Crittenden Middle School in Newport News and the Yorktown Middle School in York County have been selected to participate in the KidSat program, which involves 15 schools around the country that are near agency field centers.

"It's an exciting way to learn, because KidSat combines classroom work with an actual NASA mission in real time," said Dr. Shelley Canright, precollege officer at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

"Students will choose a subject they want to study, such as rain forest burning or river pollution, and analyze shuttle photos of that region as part of their research," said Canright, who is coordinating the project with the Hampton Roads schools.

Students already are setting up Student Mission Operations Centers that will be linked with STS-81, the 81st shuttle flight. The nine-day mission is scheduled for launch Jan. 12 from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will include a docking with the Russian space station Mir.

KidSat's primary objective is to give middle school students a chance to observe Earth from space while conducting scientific inquiries based on their classroom studies. NASA is providing $1 million annually to the three-year pilot project. The project is run by the University of California-San Diego, the Johns Hopkins University Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth in Baltimore and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The hope is that the program will inspire children to pursue careers in math, engineering, science and liberal arts. Engineers are expected to be in particular demand, with a predicted 26-percent increase in the need for professionals in that field by 2005.

Students will receive preliminary mission information about three months before launch. Using that information and a special curriculum provided by program sponsors, students will perform the mission planning needed to prepare photo requests.

The images will be taken by a KidSat camera in the Atlantis crew cabin and made available only if students correctly follow mission protocols and issue the proper commands over the Internet.

Student planning involves determining the longitude and latitude of the area they want photographed, as well as the exact time the shuttle flies over it. Before and during the mission, evaluations, verifications, orbital updates, weather information and other data will be provided to the students over the Internet. The information will help students not only plan their project but adjust to the changes that inevitably occur in shuttle missions.

Commanding the camera

During the shuttle flight, students' image requests for each orbit segment will be compiled into a single camera control file and uplinked to a laptop computer on the spacecraft. The computer will be connected to a digital camera, which automatically will be command by the laptop to snap the photos at times predetermined by students. After the images are taken, they will be downlinked and sent to students over the Internet.

Each step in the process is critical, because without the proper protocols NASA will not allow the uplink or downlink of the control file. The students will not be given special privileges and must meet NASA's mission operations standards.

STS-81 is the second KidSat mission. The first, in March 1996, involved one middle school in South Carolina and two in California. In that mission, STS-76, the Space Shuttle Atlantis took more than 300 photos over 10 days. Teachers should note that space in the KidSat program is extremely limited and that various technical requirements must be met before a school can be considered for participation in the program.

Note to editors: Photos and a fact sheet are available from either NASA Langley or the schools.

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