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Starry-Eyed Students See Their Future Pay a Visit

Times Staff Writer

“Buenos dias,” the tall woman in the navy-blue business suit said over the bustle of a couple of hundred students who were having a hard time containing their excitement Friday in the auditorium of Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima.

“Yo estoy muy contenta a participar en su dia del espacio.”

The woman telling the children she was “really happy to participate in Space Day” was Gloria McMillan, the La Jolla high school teacher who is one of California’s two candidates to become the first teacher in space.

She showed up at the Day in Space program at the Pacoima school where her sister, Patricia Streeter, teaches kindergarten. McMillan’s was to give the kids a boost on an imaginary trip in space.

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Offering Ray of Hope

They need it, Streeter said. Broadous is a poor school and many of its students come from backgrounds where there is little hope, Streeter said.

“They don’t think there is anything out there for them,” she said.

McMillan came to tell them space is out there waiting for them. They seemed to believe her.

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For two hours, the children danced, sang, recited poetry and performed skits that described their view of space. It was an optimistic view, taking for granted the technology that propels humans to space.

“Some children your age may grow up to be astronauts,” one student said, reciting an essay. “Maybe you will be one of them. Maybe you will make an amazing discovery--life in the universe, in the Milky Way, in our own solar system.”

Homemade Space Suits

In the first hour, the younger children filled the auditorium. They were outfitted in a variety of spacesuits and robot costumes constructed of household things such as shopping bags and aluminum foil.

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Members of Avis Boston’s second-grade class stood side by side to read a poem called, “Ma, Please Pack My Lunch, I’m Off to Space.”

They wanted no crackers to “float about creating a fog of crumbs.”

They asked for freeze-dried food.

“These are foods that have been frozen and then dried to lose their liquid and make them more compact,” a student said. “These foods include beef roast, turkey and orange juice.”

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‘Moonlight Madness’

Another class used a disco version of “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” the theme of the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to do the “Moonlight Madness Moon Dance.” It was full of jerky break-dance moves and Michael Jackson-style moonwalking.

The records scratched and skipped on an aging record player, leaving a wistful reminder that space-age technology still has not spread everywhere.

When the last act was over, the house lights went down.

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Some small red lights and a flashlight beam appeared behind the curtain.

“The lunar module has landed and there’s a spaceman among us,” Streeter said.

Shades of Apollo

It was a real spaceman. Or, at least a real imitation. The curtains opened and Andy Monsen of the Organization to Support Space Exploration stepped offstage in the complete regalia of an Apollo astronaut.

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While the children squealed excitedly, the spaceman walked outside the auditorium with McMillan. For several minutes she and the spaceman and a tall man in a blue suit who was a friend of the spaceman stood side-by-side at the head of a long reception line. They shook each student’s hand and offered encouragement.

“You look like moon base material to me,” the man in the suit would say. “Keep working hard in school.”

There was a second assembly for the older students. They were more calm, but no less optimistic.

One class, Fay Law’s bilingual lab, wrote its own poem.

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“Espacio, espacio!” it said. “Si alli pudieramos ir, pudieramos ver nuestro universo entero ... Espacio--interminable! Espacio--por siempre! Espacio, espacio, espacio!”

Then they repeated the poem in English. “How many of you would like to work in space?” McMillan asked the students when the assembly was over.

More than half the hands went up.

“Your education will determine whether you will be a participant in a space project or an observer,” she told them. “Learn something every day.”

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