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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

People who follow our Facebook feed know that we put a question to you the other day. With Atlantis scheduled to land tomorrow, and the 30-year space shuttle program coming to an end, we asked if you ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Many people wrote back.

In 1970, Trish Dardine was 8 years old, growing up in Long Island. She volunteered herself and her dad to join the Apollo 13 Mission.

Ms. TRISH DARDINE: So I wrote to NASA and then NASA wrote back, and it was from the head of NASA. And basically the letter said, you know, we got your request to accompany us on Apollo 13. That flight is sort of booked, but well definitely consider you and your dad for flights to Mars.

INSKEEP: Hope springs eternal. Years later, as she was cleaning out her parents' house, Trish Dardine found the letter she had written to NASA in her father's briefcase.

Ms. DARDINE: He had actually intercepted my letter to NASA. Took it to work, typed it up, and then gave the response to some neighbors who were moving to Houston, and had them mail the letter from Houston.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Another of you wrote - as a kid in the 1980s, James Ballenger, of San Diego, wanted nothing more than to go to space camp. He'd spent a summer working on his family's peach farm to earn enough money, only to find out that the price of camp had gone up. Luckily, his grandparents had already paid his way. He met scientists, and simulated life as an astronaut.

Mr. JAMES BALLENGER: Youre a Monday-morning quarterback for shuttle pilots. You are Mission Control. You are the shuttle pilot. Youre the scientist. And that was my memory - is, I was one of the scientists on the shuttle. And apparently, I opened the vent and exposed us all to solar radiation like, five or six times, and killed the crew over and over and over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Lawrence Nowlan of Cornish, New Hampshire, was immersed in the world of space travel and exploration at a very young age because his grandfather was Philip Francis Nowlan, the creator of Buck Rogers - the fictional space traveler of the '20s and '30s, and the predecessor to Flash Gordon and the sci-fi heroes that followed.

Mr. LAWRENCE NOWLAN: I guess the idea of being an astronaut was like all those other childhood dreams. It was amazing. The difference, I think, to me is, you know, it kind of felt like it could be a reality because it just never seemed that far out of reach in our house.

INSKEEP: And Nowlan believes that Buck Rogers may have been the inspiration for those first space travelers.

Mr. NOWLAN: I think that a lot of those early astronauts were big Buck Rogers fans and probably, thats the dream that they followed to get them to where they got to be.

KELLY: Now, the next generation might not be so familiar with Buck Rogers, but some still want to go into space - like Zoe McElroy of Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

Ms. ZOE MCELROY: Ever since I was really little, my grandfather has been talking to me about stars and black holes and outer space. So ever since I was really little, Ive been imagining about going up into space.

KELLY: She's only 11 years old, but she's already been to space camp three times. And the end of the shuttle program has not discouraged her.

Ms. MCELROY: Well, Im hoping that when Im old enough to be an astronaut, there will be a mission back to the moon, or to Mars.

Astronaut wannabes Zoe McElroy, Lawrence Nowlan, James Ballenger and Trish Dardine. They were just a few of the more than 1,000 listeners who wrote to us on Facebook.

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