When she looks into the faces of the students she is working with,
Freda Deskin finds curiosity - and an element of dread.
Deskin, one of Oklahoma's two finalists for the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration Teacher-In-Space program, now
serves as a NASA Space Ambassador and coordinator of special
projects for the Oklahoma Department of Education.
She is trying to educate her audiences about the United States
space program and the technology associated with it - in part to
satisfy their curiosity, but also to assuage their fear.
Science and technology have led the world to a critical and
frightening point of decision, she said. Either humanity will use
what has been learned to improve the condition of the species, or
"Science and technology can lead to destruction," she said, "but
it can also lead to the survival of our planet."
The students Deskin talks with are painfully aware of the
Deskin quotes a national survey showing 72 percent of the
children under 17 surveyed think a nuclear war will destroy the
world in their lifetime.
While she does not ignore the possibility of disaster associated
with technology, she tries to emphasize the positive potential of
"It gives us tremendous hope to realize humanity does not have
to be a victim," she said.
Ironically, the teacher-in-space program - which spawned Deskin's
current efforts - ended in disaster with the destruction of the
space shuttle Challenger.
But the teachers who were finalists for the program gathered
after the fatal accident, Deskin said, with more conviction than
ever that when they returned to classrooms across the country, they
would carry with them the hope that Deskin talks about.
They founded the non-profit Teacher-In-Space Education
Foundation, with affiliates all over the country. In Oklahoma, the
group is called the Aerospace Foundation of Oklahoma, which will
sponsor the Space Academy of America this summer in Oklahoma City.
The number three industry in the state of Oklahoma is aviation,
Deskin stresses. That heritage makes Oklahoma a natural to develop
its existing economic and cultural base into an aviation/aerospace
center for the country. One of the best ways to do that, she
contends, is to instill in the state's youth the same love for
aviation and aerospace that earlier generations possessed for flight.
That is one of the main reasons for the Space Academy, she said.
Deskin pointed to a similar program in Alabama which attracted some
150 Oklahoma students, students who shouldn't have had to travel to
another state for that kind of experience.
Incorporating what she taught - as well as what she learned - in
classes she was teaching in Pauls Valley when the teacher-in-space
program was announced, she reminds students that each has the
potential for achievement that other people have attained.
"I tell them that astronauts are just ordinary people. Neal
Armstrong was an ordinary person,", she added, laughing, "his
teachers didn't say, `Be nice to little Neal, he's going to grow up
and walk on the moon some day.'"
Deskin considers herself ordinary.
She was teaching gifted education at Pauls Valley Middle School
in August 1984 when President Reagan announced the space flight
She also taught a positive thinking class to her junior high