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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (CAP) - With the number of space flights quickly dwindling as the shuttle program nears retirement, NASA is pulling out all the stops to ensure the project goes out with some much deserved fanfare. Officials say two supermodels and a midget named Earl will accompany the astronauts on their next flight.
"Circus has such a bad connotation to it," said the chief of NASA's space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier. "We prefer carnival: the Space Shuttle Carnival Of Fun. That's something NASA can stand behind."
According to Gerstenmaier, the move is part of NASA's continued effort to expand interest in the space program beyond the historically eclectic mix of nerds and engineers to include "more normal folks." Past efforts have included a naming contest for a room at the space station, inclusion of a Buzz Lightyear toy on a mission, and the short-lived Sex In Space program.
"We spent a lot of money studying the the best way to engage that coveted young male demographic," said NASA public relations manager Jill Astley. "And this way, we get the added bonus of expanded coverage in the South, where midgets are hugely popular."
Gerstenmaier says the inclusion of Earl and the two yet-to-be-named supermodels on the next shuttle flight are "not just eye candy" but also serve a very specific scientific purpose. Earl and one of the models will accompany astronauts on a space walk, and all three will take part in tests designed to determine the effects of weightlessness on midget-tossing.
"Do you know what happens to boobs while floating in space? I do," said chief astronaut Steven Lindsey. "But rather than just come back with a report full of data from experiments, we're going to show you. This will be a very hands-on mission."
However, NASA's new attempt at expanding its audience base is not without its detractors. A panel convened last May by President Obama to study the future of the space program had determined that its purpose was best served by launching unwanted civilians into space to ease the burden on the rest of the populace.
"Alan Iverson, Al Gore, Sarah Palin, sure, you can't send them soon enough," said panel spokesperson Charles Hormel. "But who wants to see Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum or Adriana Lima leave the planet for any length of time?
"I mean, I know they're out of this world, but..." Hormel added. "Okay, sorry, bad pun."
NASA is also planning a series of events once the shuttle reaches the International Space Station to help keep interest elevated, including the first-ever primetime broadcast of Astronaut Twister, which will by hosted by Ryan Seacrest and air on Fox.
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