A schoolteacher in South Carolina hopes the sky is not the limit

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Can a schoolteacher from Summerville, S.C., find happiness as a space traveler aboard a shuttle, hurtling through the atmosphere and floating weightlessly beyond gravity's grasp?

Yes, say some of Camille Daniel's ninth-grade history students at Summerville Intermediate School.

Mrs. Daniel, a space buff, recently assigned her students brief essays on the subject: ''Would I like Mrs. Daniel to be the first teacher in space? Why or why not?''

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The idea occurred to her in August when President Reagan promised that the first ''citizen observer'' flight would go to a teacher. A few of her students think she should go - and so does she.

* ''Yes, I would like to see Mrs. Daniel go into space,'' said Bobby Wright. ''She will have more to talk about, so I will not get bored and fall asleep.''

* ''If it were during the school year, the school might be persuaded to give us a couple of days off to celebrate her venture into space,'' said Melissa Fetterolf. ''Maybe if she went, she'd be in such a good mood when she returned to earth and home that she wouldn't assign any homework for at least a month or two.''

* ''She is very small and will not take up a lot of room in the rocket,'' said Ann Marie Gordon.

Last year, when NASA Administrator James Beggs announced the ''citizen observer'' program, names such as scientist-writer Carl Sagan, entertainer John Denver, and author James Michener were suggested for the initial voyage. The focus switched to teachers after Reagan's promise.

Mrs. Daniel agrees with his choice.

''Our future space explorers are now students,'' she says. ''Teachers are in a position to spark an early interest. Many of these youngsters have dreams of becoming astronauts. We can encourage them to start thinking about such a career and how to prepare for it.''

Mrs. Daniel says she loves the sensation of flying. She and her students try to watch every shuttle launching on TV. She would like to be chosen to witness the wonders of space firsthand.

''I am captivated by astronauts' descriptions of the beautiful sights in space,'' she says. ''I want to see them for myself.

''I imagine I might be afraid. It is only human nature to fear something so novel. But God gives me strength and courage every time I ask for it. He wouldn't let me down in such a large and important endeavor.''

Mrs. Daniel is a 4-foot, 9-inch sprite of a woman who has taught school for 30 years. She meets NASA's basic requirements that the teacher chosen be healthy , a US citizen, and a full-time classroom teacher for at least the past five years.

Mrs. Daniel says her husband, Webb, and her adult children (three daughters and a son) would be thrilled if she were chosen.

But some of her students want her to remain earthbound.

* ''I would rather see my mom in space than Mrs. Daniel,'' wrote Maria Maney. ''She is a teacher, too. We would become rich and famous and I could buy lots of clothes. . . .''

* ''Mrs. Daniel is so little she would float off,'' said Royce Einhorn. ''Besides they'd probably forget her or mark her under minor details. I wouldn't want her to get lost, her being so little and space being so big.''

* ''No, I don't want Mrs. Daniel to go to outer space,'' Robby McDaniel wrote. ''She is a good teacher and we could not get anything done without her here. We would miss her.''

The students enjoyed the unusual topic, Mrs. Daniel says. The assignment's intent was to improve basic writing skills. Her favorite letter demonstrates both skills and an awareness of nonsexist language.

Student Kurt Copeland wrote: ''I think that if we were to send one person to space it should be someone who knew what they were doing, like a teacher. And who is better qualified than Mrs. Daniel? She can go where no man has ever gone before.'' (He struck through the word ''man'' and penciled in ''person.'')

Applications from teachers will be accepted from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1, 1985, for a flight as early as 1986. Applications are available at the Council of Chief State School Officers, 400 North Capitol Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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