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They were allowed only two questions, but then the youngsters were quizzing a man who was worlds away -- in outer space, in fact, somewhere over Brazil.

The fifth-graders at Glendale Elementary in the Town of Tonawanda talked Saturday with Ronald Parise, an astronaut orbiting the Earth on the space shuttle Columbia.

Using a ham radio, the pupils popped a questions to Parise, a payload specialist aboard the Columbia.

The questions, please:

"Had you ever thought twice about becoming an astronaut?" asked Janet Whelan, 10.

No, Parise responded.

"It's a tremendous experience," he said. "It's tremendous fun. It's a wonderful thing to be able to do."


Was he able to see outside the shuttle during the launch? Kim Waldeck, 10, wanted to know.

No, Parise responded again. He had a seat on mid-deck and was not near a window. But he said he did hear his fellow astronauts who were near windows hooting and hollering about the view as the shuttle hurtled into space.

The youngsters are from Douglas Smith's class, one of 20 groups chosen for the ham radio experiment called SAREX 90 -- Shuttle Amateur Radio Experiment -- to determine if it is feasible to take ham radios on space shuttles on a regular basis. Smith applied for the project by writing to Parise, also a ham radio buff.

The transmission took place shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday, while the Shuttle was over Sao Paulo, Brazil. Smith explained that the hookup was not a direct transmission because the Columbia was too low in its orbit. A signal was sent from the spacecraft to Sao Paulo, patched through to Minnesota, then sent to the radio at the Glendale school.

While Smith originally thought his class would get a full five minutes to ask questions, the class had to share time with a junior high in Minnesota and a junior college in Florida. There was only enough time for each school to ask two questions.

The experiment went off very well, Smith said afterward.

"It's the best of any I've heard," he told the group of pupils, parents and reporters.

Smith became interested in ham radios in 1986, when he met Syd Chiswell of Cheektowaga, now retired from Westinghouse. Chiswell, who believes that ham radio stations can teach technical subjects, has been an ham radio buff for 50 years.

Chiswell said the pupils didn't get more time to ask questions because Columbia had moved out of range.

With Chiswell's help, Smith received a $25,000 Christa McAulliffe Fellowship in 1987 from the U.S. Education Department and purchased the radio equipment for his class.

With the equipment, Smith also started the Young Astronauts Club and the Christa McAulliffe Space Center at Glendale, a room devoted to astronomy and space studies.

In the past, Smith's pupils have talked with people from Lithuania, among other foreign countries, as well as the United States.

The classroom radio station can transmit two-way voice communication and a digital communication, which links a computer to the radio using airwaves, instead of telephone lines, as a modem. Smith had wanted the class to use the computer communication but there wasn't time.

Smith said the project goes beyond talking with astronauts. Some of his pupils have applied for their ham radio licenses.

Others are monitoring satellites and learning how to point antennas to pick up different satellites.

"It shows what kids are capable of, if given the means," Smith said.

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