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Leicester - centre of the student universe

Leicester - the final frontier for up to 200 aspiring astronauts and scientists eager to learn about black holes, space travel and extra-terrestrial life.

They are travelling from across the country and as far away as Oman and Beijing for Leicester university's Space School UK, now in its 15th year.

The five-day and 12-day courses are aimed at 14 to 18-year-olds preparing for GCSE or post-16 education who have an interest in space technology or science.

Students get to meet space scientists, academics and employers to learn more about Mars, satellites and travelling to the stars.

Disciplines taught include robotics and space medicine. Students also have the chance to build their own rockets.

The stellar dreams of some former pupils have become reality with jobs at Nasa and the European Space Agency.

Thomas Ormston attended space school in 2000 when he was 16, and believes it set him on the path to a career in the industry.

He is now in the third year of a Birmingham university physics and space degree and hopes to get a job with Nasa and venture into space one day.

He said: "I heard about space school from a science teacher after coming up with a blank when asking career advisers about careers in space. I found out there are a lot of space careers out there. It was really exciting to meet people like me who were really interested in space."

Professor Ken Pounds, school director, said the course was designed to be fun. He said many of the students had no previous knowledge of space but developed an interest while on the course.

Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and patron of the space school, believes that all teachers should capitalise on the glamour of space science. "Nothing could be more irrelevant to the everyday experience of young people than space travel," he said. "But they are fascinated by its wonder, mystery and potential adventure.

"We need to build on that fascination, so that pupils are more positive about studying science in general."

The school runs from Sunday until August 12 and an Easter course is available for younger pupils. For details call 0116 258 2136 or visit www.star.le.ac.ukspaceschool

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