Some say space exploration is a great motivator for the development of future technology, and one Utah school hopes its new space education center will do just that.

Central Elementary School's Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center, the only one of its kind in the nation, offers students hands-on experience in space flight and related science.Students become familiar with space and computer technology in the center's Alpha I classroom. The flight deck of the Voyager Mission Simulator, designed to resemble that of the Star Ship Enterprise, is a place where students conduct experiments in science and math while on a simulated space flight. And to make the center more realistic, students can spend the night in the center's living quarters, equipped with beds, a kitchen and bathroom.

The center can also be used to simulate a submarine excursion and a trip through the human body. Most of the simulation and instruction is conducted through a computer network.

And it's only fitting that the country's first Voyager Mission Simulator be launched by the country's first congressman in space.

At Thursday's dedication ceremonies, Sen. Jake Garn talked about the importance of space exploration and the role it plays in education. He said many people are critical of money spent on the space program and his support for it, but he said the benefits far outweigh the costs.

"When you start looking at the benefits of space flight, you can't put a price tag on them. My interest in space exploration goes beyond space shuttles and space stations, it goes to our whole education system," Garn said. "We're not training enough engineers and we're not training enough scientists."Garn said space exploration spurs interest in future technology and the space center will motivate students to take a part in that technology. He said the center is an asset to Alpine School District, the school and the state, and that more schools should encourage similar programs.

"It's got to spread, it's got to be a lot broader," he said.

Garn said he has seen many space simulators in many schools, but "I simply have not seen one any better than this one anywhere in this country."

The space education center is the culmination of four years of work by Victor Williamson, a Central Elementary School science teacher now on paid sabbatical. Williamson, US WEST's 1989-90 Teacher of the Year, became determined to build the ship simulator after seeing the success of a space orbiter simulator at a private school in Arizona.

"My goal is to excite students and encourage them to pursue learning and careers in the areas of math and science," Williamson said. "Let these students see the future by showing them a vision today and a look at tomorrow."

The $200,000, 18,000-square-foot center was built with technology grants from the State Office of Education, funds from the Christa McAuliffe National Fellowship, and major donations from US WEST and Apple Computers. Several local businesses and citizens donated materials, and Alpine School District supplied much of the labor.

The space education center will not only serve Alpine School District, but students throughout the state. Field trip reservations to the center are already scheduled into June. Williamson said educators can bring up to 70 students to the center for instruction.