5 Youths Vie for Chance to Go to Space Camp

After winning top prize at their elementary schools' science fairs, 21 finalists, including five from the San Fernando Valley, will compete Saturday for a chance to go to the United States Space Camp in Alabama.

Five students will win all-expense-paid trips, along with their parents, to the U. S. Parent / Child Space Camp in Huntsville this summer, and 17 runners-up will be awarded scholarships to attend the Woodcraft Rangers Science Camp at Stanley Ranch in Castaic.

The children will present their winning science projects and experiments on water purification, satellites, volcanoes, electrical currents and the solar system at the fourth annual Celebrate Science fair, hosted by LA's BEST After School Program.

LA's BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow) was created in 1988 and provides free after-school activities to 4,000 children at 22 elementary schools in Los Angeles neighborhoods that are vulnerable to gangs, drugs and crime, spokeswoman Tammy Sims said.

The program has sent 10 children to the space program so far, Sims said.

Namky Tran, 11, of Winnetka is a finalist from Hart Street School. He won first place at his school's science fair for his project--Apollo Saturn V lunar spacecraft.

With some help from his father, Namky made a small model of a rocket, including lunar and command modules, with tubes, glue, white paint, tape and a black crayon.

"I like things that fly and I wonder about things in space," the fifth-grader said. "But I think I just want to be a pilot, not an astronaut."

Alejandra Argote, a sixth-grader from Sylmar School, won her school's science fair with her project, which demonstrates how electrical currents from a nine-volt battery can split hydrogen from oxygen in the water.

"It took me two weeks to do it, and my teacher at LA's BEST helped me because I broke my arm and had a cast on it," said Alejandra, 12.

Excited and nervous about being a finalist, Alejandra said she still will have to face her family and decide who will make the trip to Alabama with her.

"Everyone in my family is saying, 'Can I go with you?' or 'Take me, take me'," Alejandra said.

Cynthia Salinas, 10, won first place at Canoga Park School for her science project on the solar system. It took the Canoga Park resident two months to complete the project, made of Styrofoam balls, paint, plaster, modeling clay, ball-point pens and a record player.

"I want to win because it will be interesting to go there, and I will be able to go on a plane. I've never been on one," said Cynthia, who dreams of being a scientist.

Demita Jones of Langdon Avenue school and Jerry Nuno of Napa Street School are the other Valley students who will compete.

The competition will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Times' Downtown office.

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