When and if the space shuttle Columbia makes its way into space Friday with letters from the Make-A-Wish foundations across the country, the words of 10-year-old Ryan Sandberg from Orem will be aboard.

Of course, Ryan would rather it be he flying into the sky. But if it can only be his letter - chosen as the representative letter from the Utah Make-A-Wish chapter - that's all right for now.He'll stay on the ground and read.

That's his favorite thing to do these days, when he's not playing with his little sister, Samantha, 18 months, or working on the computer the Foundation provided for him after he became seriously ill two years ago.

Ryan's always liked reading. That's why he wrote about how important he thinks it is that everyone in the world be able to read when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him to submit a letter that might end up on the shuttle.

"Dear Universe," he wrote, "I wish we had a better education program. It would solve a lot of our problems with disease and hunger and many other things if we could teach people how to read so they could teach themselves by reading.

"I can help get it started by collecting and donating books and school things and sending letters to the government to get the nation involved.

"It's hard for me to imagine that some people can't read. It's sad too, because I really enjoy reading. That's why a better education program is my wish for the universe."

For Ryan, who underwent a bone marrow transplant last year, reading has been both a friend and entertainment for long days in hospitals.

"But he's always been a huge reader," said his mother, Rhonda. "I counted one time and he'd read 5,000 pages in four months. He finishes a book about every other day."

Ryan says he likes reading because it takes him away from the real world.

His interests span a wide range, but mostly he likes adventure books. Right now, he's into the Animorphs series but his mother says he generally reads more sophisticated material like Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series.

"I like reading better than TV," he said.

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Additional Information

Poised to blast off

Armed with a new data processor and a fresh batch of crickets and mice, space shuttle Columbia was poised to blast off Friday afternoon for a 16- to 17-day flight. It was the second launch attempt. A scheduled try Thursday was nixed by a failed processor. Near-perfect weather was forecast at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the liftoff at 12:19 p.m. MDT.