PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) – Three teachers chosen to become astronauts said their main mission is to inspire school children and the public to become enthusiastic about space exploration, science and technology.

The teachers are among eight U.S. and three Japanese astronaut candidates who next week will complete the first phase of their NASA training at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“That’s really almost an added bonus if I get to go up,” Joe Acaba, 36, a middle school math and science teacher from Dunnellon said Thursday. “By going through the entire training process, working with the astronauts and learning the program, I’m in a better position to really bring that back to the kids.”

His sentiments were echoed by Ricky Arnold, 40, a Cheverly, Md., native who was teaching math and science in Bucharest, Romania, when he was selected and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, a high school science teacher from Vancouver, Wash.

“Science and math and technology are what made this country what it is,” Arnold said. “We need kids not only to fulfill the pipeline for employees to NASA but also to maintain the lead in technology.”

The nation’s first teacher-astronaut, Christa McAuliffe, was killed when the shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. Another teacher, Barbara Morgan, 52, of McCall, Idaho, has been training in Houston since 1998 and is scheduled for a space flight in 2006.

NASA’s shuttles have been grounded since the Columbia disintegrated on re-entry last year and flights are not expected to resume until next year at the earliest.

The other U.S. astronauts training here are Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Cassidy, 34, a Salem, Mass., native stationed at Norfolk, Va.; NASA engineer Jose Hernandez, 41, of Houston; Dr. Tom Marshburn, 43, a NASA flight surgeon from League City, Texas; Dr. Bobby Satcher, 38, a physician from Oak Park, Ill., and an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Medical Center, and NASA engineer Shannon Walker, 38, of Houston.

All have received basic flight and water survival training for the past month as mission specialists. They next will receive land survival training in Maine and advanced flight training in Texas.

The Japanese astronauts are Dr. Satoshi Furukawa, a physician from Kanagawa Prefecture, Akihiko Hoshide of Tokyo, and engineer Naoko Yamazaki, a native of Matsudo City.

AP-ES-07-23-04 0349EDT

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