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When Sen. Jake Garn dedicated the Christa McAuliffe Space Center at Central Elementary School in November, he said people did not realize just how big an asset the center would be.

Only as time passed would residents of Alpine School District and other districts gain an appreciation for the center, he said.More than six months later, Victor Williamson, director of the center, said people are beginning to understand what Garn meant. In fact, the center is becoming so popular among educators and students that Williamson cannot keep pace with the demand.

"It's a lot more successful than I ever thought it would be," Williamson said. "More people want to use the center than we can accommodate, and I'm now having to turn people away."

Last school year, more than 8,500 students, 350 teachers and 600 parents from throughout the state visited the center. Williamson expects about 10,000 students will visit the center this coming year. Teachers are asking to schedule trips to the center for the next 10 years. However, to ensure that Alpine students have priority, Williamson is canceling trips already scheduled and is limiting the number of trips a district can make.

"The success of this center should open the eyes of every district along the Wasatch Front. It's the most fascinating use of technology money I've ever seen, and it's using technology money in the right way and to its fullest potential," Williamson said.

The center's popularity does not end when the school year ends. Next month three space camps will be held at the center. During the first week of July, Williamson will host the International Space Jamboree where students from Japan, the Soviet Union, New York and Texas will join about 40 Alpine students to study space science. As part of the camp, the non-Alpine students will experience a 20-hour overnight mission in the center.

"This camp is another example of how beneficial the center is. It's more of a cultural experience than anything else," Williamson said.

On July 8, the "Bright Ideas" program, sponsored by the Brig-ham Young University education department, will host a space camp for elementary age students. On July 21, the program will host a space camp for junior high stu-dents.

Sara Hacken, director of the "Bright Ideas" program, said the camps will give students a learning opportunity not offered in the schools. Besides learning about space technology and space science, the students will go through a series of problem-solving and decisionmaking experiences.

"It's fascinating to watch the kids solve different problems and face different dilemmas," Hacken said. "Every mission is different because the kids make different decisions.Through the activities at the center I've seen kids exhibit leadership skills that I didn't know they had."

Enrollment in the camps is limited, and those interested are encouraged to sign up by Friday. For more information on the camps or to sign up call either Hacken at 226-8399, Williamson at 785-8713 or Debbie May at 798-9675.