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Pupils Dedicate Mock Shuttle To Challenger Victims

February 28, 1986

OAKLAND, N.J. (AP) _ Twelve pupil astronauts landed safely today after a 10 1/2 -hour mock space mission and, like real space travelers, they underwent physicals and answered questions at a news conference.

″They are ecstatic and happy. They really enjoyed themselves,″ said Judy Vihonski, an English teacher who organized the Valley Middle School’s space mission, which was dedicated to the seven astronauts killed in the explosion of space shuttle Challenger.

The astronauts and 30 pupils working mission control went to breakfast and ″now they’re asleep,″ Ms. Vihonski said.

The mock space mission of the Explorer had originally been scheduled for Jan. 28 to coincide with the launch of Challenger but was canceled when the shuttle exploded.

Before liftoff Thursday, about 500 pupils and parents gathered in the school gymnasium to watch a slide show of Challenger’s maiden voyage in April 1984, narrated by former astronaut Terry Hart.

Hart flew that mission with Francis R. Scobee, who died along with teacher Christa McAuliffe and five other astronauts in the Challenger explosion.

The plywood Explorer, built in the auditorium, ″took off″ at 9 p.m. with the help of carbon dioxide and dry ice.

During the flight, pupils took turns staffing the space craft, but all 12 astronauts were in the shuttle for the 7:30 a.m. landing, said Ms. Vihonski.

Back on earth, they were examined by the school nurse, she said. At a ″news conference,″ they fielded questions, she said.

Attorney General W. Cary Edwards and Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., were among those greeting the pupils, said Ms. Vihonski.

The mock mission showed the children ″have a sense of commitment to fulfilling something,″ schools Superintendent Larry Ksanznak said.

Hart, who briefed the young astronauts before ″liftoff,″ called the simulation ″the most spectacular I’ve ever seen.″

The 24-foot-long by 8-foot-wide shuttle had computer consoles on which students commanded the ship with the help of film shot during actual space flights and donated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

They communicated via ham radio with ″ground control,″ based in the principal’s office.

The countdown, delayed two minutes by ″computer failure,″ was announced over the public address system by a student.

The mission, dubbed ″Forward to the Future: Kids in Space,″ included an observation of Halley’s comet, a ″space walk″ and deployment and repair of satellites.

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