Pupils at a London primary have an unusual penfriend - a Mir astronaut. Jon Salmon reports
Space usually means one thing to pupils in Britain's crowded classrooms and another to the staff of NASA or Russia's Mission Control.
Not so at a primary school in Fulham, west London, where events on board the stricken Russian space station Mir have been followed intently.
Youngsters at Sulivan primary became obsessed with exploring the final frontier when it emerged that Mir astronaut Dr Michael Foale was godson to eight-year-old pupil Adam Fazakerley.
British-born Dr Foale was anxious to keep in touch from Mir with Earth through e-mail, and headteacher Tim Rome seized the opportunity for youngsters to learn about space at first-hand.
With the aid of access to the Internet via a multimedia computer provided by Hammersmith and Fulham education authority, pupils at Sulivan Control were ready for lift off. For the eight to ten-year-olds the fortunes of Dr Foale and the Mir space mission became a daily fascination.
As part of the "Astronaut in Space" project youngsters surfed the Internet, exploring NASA's home page and downloading images from the Hubble space telescope. They also watched live video clips sent directly from inside Mir and from NASA's control room.
Daily updates were given as Dr Foale and his two Russian colleagues struggled with life on Mir. The atmosphere at Sulivan was tense when the station was hit by an out-of-control docking craft in June.
First-hand information was also gleaned from Dr Foale's responses to pupil e-mails sent through NASA.
Mr Rome said:" This was one of the most exciting projects I have seen in six years as head. The computer gave us a great opportunity to see how the Internet works. Pupils were amazed at how much information it provides."
The pupils' technological breakthrough was made via BT's CampusWorld, a major educational on-line service for teachers and pupils.
It has about 2,500 UK school subscribers, offers about 20,000 pages of material for use in classrooms and has links to 1,300 Web sites.
David Cross, assistant director of education at Hammersmith and Fulham, said: "If our pupils are to move ahead, they should have access to electronic forms of information. Schools and libraries will play an important role in ensuring that everyone has access."