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`CAMP' GIVES KIDS CHANCE TO EXPLORE SPACE

Eight-year-old Coby Keddington wants to be a police officer when he grows up.

"But if I ever got fired or anything, I would be an astronaut," he said.Keddington got a head start on his second career, and dozens of other Utah schoolchildren got a firsthand - and hands-on - look at space exploration Friday as participants in the U.S. Space Camp Expo.

The Expo, sponsored by the nonprofit Space and Rocket Center of Huntsville, Ala., is one of many exhibits found at the Kids & Family Fair, which is open to the public and continues Saturday and Sunday at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

The Expo offers children and adults alike the chance to see, and perhaps even use, equipment similar to that used by NASA to train its astronauts. And although recruiting a future generation of space travelers isn't the Expo's main purpose, Keddington and his classmates from Cottonwood Heights Elementary were ready to sign up.

"We want to use the space program as a tool to get kids interested in math and science," said Steve Cleland, a Space Camp instructor. "This also gives kids who otherwise wouldn't be able to come to Alabama a chance to see some of this."

Where else would young astronauts find a Multi-Axis Trainer? The machine, a smallerversion of the device used to train astronauts in the Mercury program, spins the lucky camper in several directions, simulating the free-fall of an aircraft out of control.

"It was fun," said Kaleigh Westhoff, 12, of Farmington, who was selected to demonstrate the Multi-Axis Trainer. "I didn't hit my head or anything."

Jan Holmgren, a parent who accompanied members of Bear River Elementary's Young Astronauts Club, served as her group's guinea pig in trying out the Space Station Mobility Trainer. The circular device helps potential astronauts feel what it's like to perform activities in the weightlessness of space.

"It was like a Ferris Wheel, but you don't have to worry about falling out," Holmgren said.

Ryan Rhodes, an 11-year-old Bear River student, said he learned a lot at the Expo and was encouraged to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Cleland fielded all kinds of questions from eager students such as Rhodes, from easy ones like "what does that do?," to the more difficult, like "are there space aliens?" But Cleland, 30, said he's used to it.

"A lot of folks come up and ask, `Why aren't we feeding the world with this money instead of putting it into the space program?' They really aren't aware of the benefits of the space program.

"Instead of helping a few people now, we're helping a whole generation."

Space Camp, a division of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission, offers weeklong camp sessions for youths and adults each February through December, ranging in price from $500 to $775.

The Salt Lake visit is one of about 10 the Expo will make across the country this year in an effort to recruit campers and promote space exploration. Admission to the event is $4 for adults and $3 for children and senior citizens.