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For Release: Jan. 10, 1997

Michael Finneran
NASA Langley (757) 864-6121

Betsy Overkamp-Smith
York County Schools (757) 898-0391

Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck
Newport News Schools (757) 591-7453

RELEASE NO. 97-002a

Jan. 12 launch:

Two Hampton Roads middle schools will participate in a NASA shuttle mission that is scheduled for liftoff Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:27 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the 9-day mission, students will use the Internet to call down photos shot by the Space Shuttle Atlantis as it orbits Earth.

The Crittenden Middle School in Newport News and the Yorktown Middle School in York County are taking part in the (KidSat) program, which involves 15 schools around the country that are near NASA field centers.

The KidSat camera will be activated aboard the shuttle on Monday, Jan. 13.

Students have set up Student Mission Operations Centers linked with STS-81, the 81st shuttle flight. The mission 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..

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.

Note to editors: Photos and a fact sheet are available from either NASA Langley or the schools. Or visit the KidSat home page.

Shuttle launch updates are available by calling a recorded message at Kennedy at (407) 867-2525.

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