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All Utahns - but especially schoolchildren - are invited to take an unusual trip sometime over the next two weeks. They're invited to go along on an undersea expedition to discover the ruins of two battleships from the War of 1812.

Oceanographer Robert Ballard is commanding the expedition in Lake Ontario to explore the wreckage of the Hamilton and the Scourge.The Children's Museum of Utah, 840 N. 300 West, is linked via satellite to Ballard on his command ship on Lake Ontario. Over the course of each day of exploring, there will be seven shows at the museum, seven opportunities for an auditorium-full of Utahns to watch Ballard on one large screen and watch the exploration robot on the another screen.

Ballard is the director of the Center for Marine Exploration at the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution. He's been involved in 50 similar scientific expeditions, including the discoveries of the Titanic and the Bismarck, the first manned exploration of the Mid-Ocean Ridge and the discovery of warm water springs and their unusual animal communities in the Galapagos Rift.

Ballard named his underwater robot Jason - after the Greek explorer. Ballard's Jason is an underwater exploration vehicle that looks more like an oversize outboard motor than either a Greek explorer or an R2-D2-type robot.

The Hamilton and the Scourge both sank early Sunday, Aug. 8, 1813. They were awaiting first light to renew action against six British-Canadian ships when, at about 2 a.m., a sudden squall swept the lake, catching both schooners beam on and capsizing them.

Fifty-three sailors died. Nineteen survived.

Until the 1970s, both ships lay undiscovered and undisturbed in the dark, near-freezing waters of Lake Ontario.

A quarter-million schoolchildren across the United States are expected to participate in Jason's explorations at a dozen museums.

Jacque Conkling, director of public relations and development for the Children's Museum of Utah, explains that the Utah museum was unable to raise the necessary $240,000 to obtain the telelink with the Jason Project.

"But, because a museum in Charlotte, N.C., loaned us the equipment free of charge, and because Dr. Ballard is so committed to science and math education that he arranged for us to have the program, we can do it this year."

Conkling says the Children's Museum plans to ask the Legislature for telelink money again next year. Not only would a permanent link allow Utah schoolchildren to participate in other hands-on marine explorations, she says, but access to the telelink would also give them access to NASA programs and the exhibits of other excellent museums in the United States and Canada.