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Photo/TERRY ORGAN Fullerton, a former astronaut with National Aeronautics and Space Administration talks about his experiences into space at Black Mountain School

That was the message delivered to roughly 400 pupils in grades four through eight at a presentation Monday by employees of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Black Mountain School is in the first year of a three-year Explorer Schools program that makes it a partner with NASA.

The school receives funding each year for purchase of science and technology equipment, some of which will permit teleconferencing with the International Space Station.

Gwendolyn Sykes Brown, who manages financial operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was a guest speaker at Black Mountain.

Among those from Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., who joined Brown were: C.

Gordon Fullerton, a former astronaut and chief research pilot at Dryden; Michelle Davis, NASA Dryden's pre-college officer; and Beth Hagenauer, NASA Dryden public affairs officer.

Brown told pupils that the robot explorers Spirit and Opportunity have found evidence of water on Mars.

"We want you to become good at math and science so we can make some of you astronauts and send you to Mars to see (firsthand) if there's water," Brown said.

She presented a video "A Renewed Spirit of Discovery." It contained comments by President Bush made at a news conference Jan.

14, when he announced plans for an expanded commitment in space.

The video showed activities on the International Space Station that depict techniques necessary to prepare for deep space exploration and file footage from previous shuttle missions, when equipment was taken up that is needed to complete assembly of the ISS.

The station will serve as an orbiting platform from which to launch deep space missions.

Bush's timetable calls for Americans to return to the moon by 2020 with robotic missions to the lunar surface to begin in 2008.

"It's time to produce new technology and systems that will allow us to function in the more challenging environments to which we aspire," Bush said.

Fullerton has logged 382 hours in space on two eight-day missions.

He was part of the astronaut corps between September 1969 and November 1986.

He said he often is asked what it's like in space and tells people there are two things unique.

"The view is first," Fullerton said.

"Everyone spends his or her time with their nose up against the window watching the world go by, and it's really spectacular.

"Second is the weightlessness.

Think about throwing a baseball as hard as you can and gravity will still catch it and bring it to the ground.

You must travel at 18,000 mph to escape earth's gravity."

Fullerton said it takes 8.5 minutes from launch to reach orbit and 45 minutes to return safely to earth once a spacecraft is positioned backwards and its engines fired.

"We hope to go back to the moon and on to Mars, and someone in this room could be involved in that," Fullerton said.

"You're the right age to make these trips.

Now is the time to acquire the skills you'll need for them."

Fullerton twice flew aboard the space shuttle.

He was part of the STS-3 mission March 22-30, 1982, on Columbia.

That mission exposed the orbiter extremes in thermal stress and tested a 50-foot robot arm used to maneuver payloads in orbit.

Fullerton was commander of the STS-51 Spacelab 2 mission launched July 29, 1985.

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