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SARATOGA SPRINGS - An American flag that once hung in a classroom at the Saratoga Springs High School is back from a six-million-mile trek.

Teachers and students gathered Thursday in the high school lobby to mark the return of the small banner, donated last summer to a crew of space-bound astronauts by students in the school's NASA club.

Folded into the smallest shape possible, the flag was one of only a few nonessential items taken aboard the spacecraft Endeavour when it launched in July, carrying seven American astronauts to the International Space Station on a 16-day mission.

The dates of that trip - July 15 to July 31 - along with a signed photo of each of the astronauts on the mission, now accompany the flag in a large frame hung near the school's lobby.

Superintendent Janice White, speaking at an unveiling ceremony in front of about two dozen students and teachers, said the display should serve as a fitting memento to the work that went into the effort to get the flag on board the spacecraft.

She credited Charlie Kuenzel, an astronomy teacher who advises the student NASA club, and Saratoga Springs alumni Meg Waldron Allen for being the driving forces behind the project.

Allen helped Kuenzel and club members coordinate with NASA through her role with the United Space Alliance, a launch-support company affiliated with the space program.

"This flag will be a reminder and an example of what purpose and commitment means," White said during the brief ceremony. "The legacy of the NASA club and the hundreds of hours they dedicated to this mission will be appreciated and remembered."

Mike Hogan, a junior at the school who is in his third year with the NASA club, agreed with the sentiment.

"There aren't many schools that get to send something into space and get it back, so this is pretty amazing," he said after the unveiling. "I think this will be a great legacy for the club, and I love the idea that I'll be able to come back from college and see this."

Kuenzel, who is retiring at the end of this year, said other students familiar with the project have responded similarly.

"It's really meant a lot to the kids," he said. "It's been amazing to see how they've embraced this and how much they realize how special and one-of-a-kind this is."

Arrangements are in the works to get one of the seven astronauts who participated in the Endeavour mission - Chris Cassidy, whose mother hails from Saratoga Springs - to visit students this spring.

Kuenzel said his hope is that the visit, along with other NASA club efforts, will serve to inspire more students to get into math and science. He said professionals regularly tell him that people with math and science expertise are in high demand.

"I'm frequently being told that we need more quick and inspired students," he said. "So my hope is that we can use this to excite them a little bit."

The Endeavour crew, meanwhile, returned to Cape Canaveral, Fla., this week to begin preparing for another mission due to leave Feb. 7. The shuttle is making just five more trips before it is retired.

NASA's next missions, the Orion and the Ares, may not launch another astronaut into orbit until 2015.

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