It takes thousands of people to fly the Space Shuttle, and now students can use the Internet to communicate with Shuttle workers to learn about the workers' jobs, simulate Shuttle flights and suggest Shuttle improvements.

The "Shuttle Team Online" web site began operations March 1, and will be active until the end of May. The Internet URL is:

"There's information about a hundred of these people, what they do and how they got to their present jobs," said co-executive producer Marc Siegel who works at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. The project focus is on STS-83, a 16-day microgravity Shuttle mission that is scheduled for an April 3 launch.

Students peek behind the scenes as workers train astronauts, prepare the Shuttle between missions, launch it, conduct the mission and help land the spacecraft. "These Shuttle folks are far from the spotlight usually reserved for astronauts. Nonetheless, these workers have a fascinating story to tell," Siegel added.

One worker's web site entry says, "Hello, my name is George Thomas. I am the lead engineer for the Ground Launch Sequencer group. On launch day, I sit in the firing room of the Launch Control Center, and if you listen carefully, you can hear my voice in the background saying things like, 'GLS auto sequence has been initiated; GLS go for main engine start.'" In addition to Thomas, the team includes meteorologists, engineers, computer scientists, managers, technicians, student interns and others.

Students will receive detailed field journals that describe tasks done by the workers. The journal format will vary. It may include "What I did today" or "A problem I recently solved." Students are encouraged to pursue individual interests by submitting E-mail questions to the workers.

"Shuttle Team Online strives to motivate young people to pursue science, math and technology," said co-executive producer Susan Lee. Beginning in April, classrooms using the web site will simulate a Shuttle launch, 'experiment' while 'in orbit' and 'land.' Student-to-student interactions will be facilitated by the simulations, and an area on the web site is reserved to display students' Shuttle-related work.

"Classrooms will be grouped with others to compare and discuss the meaning of their experiment data," Lee said. During one activity called "Students Improve the Shuttle" youngsters will design Shuttle enhancements and then share student work online. "We hope a lively debate will ensue about the various ideas. Towards the end, NASA experts will share their thoughts about the suggested improvements," she said.

In addition, a series of Internet live events such as web chats with Shuttle personnel will be announced to participants via E-mail. "Shuttle Team Online is free and open to schools across the nation. We designed our Internet projects to be scaleable, and we are prepared for any number of schools that may participate," Lee said. "We expect thousands of classrooms to sign on.

This project is designed for pre-college students, Lee said. "However, the activity is often interesting to adults who enjoy the space program," she added. Also, Shuttle Team Online hosts teacher Internet 'discussion' areas to encourage educators to support one another and to share ideas.

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