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NASA Contest : Youngsters Lift Off in ‘Adventure’

Times Staff Writer

Just 5 hours after the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Friday, a dozen would-be astronauts boarded the space shuttle Adventure for another liftoff.

This launch was not at Cape Canaveral, Fla., but at Mesa View School in Huntington Beach.

“Zero gravity all the way. It’s rad,” said crew member Teresa Valarde, 11, as she prepared to board the mock shuttle.

Dressed in white spacesuits and blue hats, the 12 student astronauts and two teacher astronauts waved to a cheering crowd of about 300 schoolmates and family members and filed into the shuttle Adventure as part of a simulated launch and space trip.

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White smoke billowed out of the black trash cans that served as engines. And as the Adventure “lifted off,” the crowd released red, white and blue balloons.

Nationwide Contest

The mock shuttle project is in response to a nationwide student contest that NASA is conducting to choose the name of the space shuttle that will replace Challenger. The winning students in the Name the Orbiter Contest get a free trip to a NASA-related event.

The winning entry will be chosen based on the name selected for the shuttle and a group project, which can range from a scale model to a poem or song.

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The 12 fifth- and sixth-graders at the elementary school decided to create a model shuttle and spent a month building it with help from parents, teachers and classmates.

The final product, made of plywood, papier-mache, plastic, corrugated cardboard and the trash cans is 63 feet long (the shuttle rests on its belly), 10 feet wide and 20 feet high with a tail that juts 15 feet into the air. The mockup looks a lot like an actual space shuttle.

“We missed recess. We had to do extra projects, and we spent a lot of time after school,” said sixth-grader Kenna Masuda, Adventure’s pilot.

Students worked on computers to simulate flight patterns and spent 3 months doing weekend research projects to learn about space flight. But their efforts were rewarded. All 12 astronauts got A’s in science last term.

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Now the crew faces another challenge: winning the contest. NASA said that more than 100 projects have been entered in the contest and several hundred more are expected before the Dec. 31 deadline. In California alone, two other schools have picked the name “Adventure” for the new shuttle.

“We have to be twice as good as them,” said 12-year-old Eric Wersching, Adventure’s commander. “Hopefully, we’ll win.”

The students will be sending pictures of the model and a paper describing their project to NASA judges. State winners will be named in March, and the national winner probably will be named May 1.

But on Friday, there was a more immediate challenge: The 12 crew members and two teachers began a 20-hour “journey” in the shuttle, equipped with sandwiches and soft drinks.

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Crew members seemed to have thought of all the necessities, including what crew member Karen Dawes, 11, called “extravehicular activity.”

“When we have to do that, we attach a rope to ourselves and moonwalk out of the shuttle to the bathroom.”


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