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1,500 Journalists Say They Have The Write Stuff For Space Trip

December 2, 1985

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw have not applied to be the first journalist in space, but Alita H.T. Dickerson has.

″It’s time to get an old girl up there and let her try it out,″ says the 82-year-old former publisher of a weekly newspaper in Smackover, Ark., of her bid to fly aboard the space shuttle in September.

″I’ll sure try to go through with it if they give me a chance. I have a broader view of life.″

Mrs. Dickerson, who now lives in an apartment in Pomona, Calif., is one of more than 1,500 journalists seeking the ultimate out-of-town assignment, the opportunity offered by NASA to fly on a space shuttle mission and report the experience.

Albert Scroggins, dean emeritus of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism, who has been called on to help pick the best candidate, said excellent people have applied so far.

The project is being administered for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication headquartered at the university.

Formal applications for the post are being mailed out this week to people who have shown interest. CBS News, for example, has asked for 50.

Cathy Franz, who handles some of the incoming calls for applications, said everyone wants to know if Cronkite has applied and whether the competition is skewed toward the broadcast or print media.

No, he hasn’t, she said. And no, it isn’t.

There is no age limit placed on the applicants, and the only requirements are that they must be U.S. citizens, have the backing of their employers, have at least five years experience as journalists and pass a minimal physical that would not automatically exempt someone who wears glasses or a hearing aid, Scroggins said.

″We are interpreting the term ‘journalist’ broadly to include reporters, editorial columnists, broadcasters, photo journalists and editorial cartoonists,″ he said. ″We felt there would be 125,000 people qualified from the job they do on a day-to-day basis.″

″There’s only one seat, but at the same time we’re trying to find someone who can write well and who also will be articulate in broadcasting back to earth. There are a lot of people who can do that,″ Scroggins said.

The journalist ultimately selected for the flight will have to agree to be a pool reporter - sending reports to all other institutions besides his own - for 30 days after returning from space, but Scroggins said he realizes the person will probably keep a diary and write a book later.

The support of the journalist’s employer is necessary because the person will not go on NASA’s payroll during the six-month training period.

″We felt it would be a conflict of interest,″ Scroggins said.

The application is about 12 pages long, but about half of that includes instructions and an explanation of the project. Three pages are for three recommendations of the applicant’s choosing.

Jennifer McGill, executive director of the association, said the application is not much different than a job application.

Applicants will have to submit samples of their work, and the form will require respondents to answer two essay questions. The questions are designed to learn how articulate they are, why they want to fly and what they view as the future of journalists in space, Scroggins said.

Denver Post columnist Woody Paige asked his readers to nominate him while another journalist wrote ″I drink Tang. Am I more qualified?″

Another journalist wrote that he was willing to be ″the first journalist to be severely nauseated in space at taxpayers’ expense.″

The applications must be submitted by Jan. 15. Five regional panels will judge them, and the names of eight finalists from each section of the country will be sent to NASA headquarters in Washington.

A national panel made up of veteran journalists and educators will interview the regional finalists and narrow the field to five candidates who will undergo NASA orientation and medical examinations. NASA will announce a winner and an alternate April 17.

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