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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Public interest in space travel is at its highest level since the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA’s head of technology transfer said here Tuesday.

Harry Craft said recent discoveries such as ice on the moon, evidence of potential past life on Mars and hit movies about space have revived public interest in space, which had waned since the Challenger explosion 11 years ago.

“The public is overwhelmingly interested in the unknown of outer space,” Craft said. “Things like the Hubble telescope have shown us how large and immense our universe really is. It gives us the intrigue to seek more knowledge of what is out there.

“The more we learn about (outer space) the more it whets our appetite to say ‘we may not be here by ourselves,’ and ask ‘who or what else is there?’ “

Craft was a guest speaker at the second anniversary of the Challenger Center at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

The center, one of 31 worldwide, is visited by about 10,000 children each year.

Craft said the facilities increase public interest in space by raising awareness, especially in children, of how space exploration affects our daily lives.

“One of our goals is to work with the Challenger Centers to make sure young people are motivated to continue education in science and engineering,” Craft said.

“We help them see how spin-offs from the space program can turn into things that we can use everyday, such as a cordless appliances or super insulation in our homes.

“We tell them that a degree in science and engineering allows you to explore the universe, but if you do not want to do that, you can use it to work on practical things that affect our everyday lives.”

Contact: Carolyn Mitchell (423-755-4363)