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Kids Control High-Flying Space Cameras

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Did your Mom or Dad ever give you a small camera to begin taking your own photos? Suppose you could put that camera in space to take pictures of Earth.

That's what NASA has done, using one of its space shuttles for a bodacious science project called KidSat. It's proving that the shuttle Atlantis isn't just for grownups anymore.

KidSat is made up of three cameras that will take pictures of Earth from Atlantis during its current mission to meet Russia's space station Mir. The ''targets'' are picked and the cameras controlled by students sitting in the comfort of their own classrooms in San Diego, Pasadena, Calif., and Charleston, S.C. Once taken, the pictures are sent back and posted on the Internet's World Wide Web for anyone who wants to see them or use them.

Working with older students and with scientists at the University of California at San Diego and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, a team of elementary, middle-, and high school students figured out a way to mount a 35-mm still camera in one of the windows on the shuttle's ceiling. Instead of using film from the local drug store, the special camera records the images as a collection of 1's and 0's that a computer can store.

The team also designed a computer program that would help control the cameras, including a digital video camera in the shuttle's payload bay. The program was loaded onto a laptop computer that sits in the shuttle's cabin.

From beginning to end, kids have been the bosses on this project. Joshua Lane, a ninth-grader at La Canada High School in La Canada, Calif., helped develop the software and procedures for using the equipment while it is on the shuttle. He also helped train the astronauts who will oversee the equipment while in orbit.

Kids training astronauts?

''It was really a humbling experience,'' Joshua says.

''I was real surprised at how nice they were to us,'' adds Austin Leach, another high school freshman on the KidSat project. ''I thought they were gonna be a little different, like, 'Just tell us what you're gonna do an get outta here, 'cause you're just kids, you're not important.' But they didn't treat us like that. They treated us like we were important, and they really listened to us.''

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