Two Washington area scientists may be aboard one of early missions of the space shuttle Enterprise when the craft inaugurates the next era of the U.S. space program.

Dr. Dianne Prinz, 39, and Dr. John-David Bartoe, 33, both solar physicists with the Naval Research Lab in Southwest Washington, are two of four scientists, called payload specialists, who have been selected for a nine-day mission scheduled for 1981.

Two of the scientists will be aboard the shuttle to carry out a variety of experiments in the Spacelab 2 area of the vehicle. The other two will monitor the mission from the ground.

Also aboard the shuttle will be four astronauts who will take the craft into space.

Prinz is the first woman scientists to be chosen for a Spacelab mission and may be the second woman in space. "I imagine one of NASA's female astronauts will precede her," a NASA official said.

Both Prinz and Bartoe are a far cry from the rugged Buck Rogers image commonly associated with astronauts and the "absent-minded professor" dishevelment traditionally associated with accomplished scientists. The Naval Research Lab, where both have worked for more than 10 years, looks like a cross between a military installation and a college campus.

"I liked logic and order as a child," said Prinz, who works in corduroy jeans, hot pink oxford cloth shirt and scuffed track shoes. The daughter of a coal miner from a small town near Pittsburg, Prinz recalled, "My father always appreciated scientific things, even though he only went to the seventh grade. We had a small farm and there were lots of chemicals around so I got interested in chemistry."

Prinz won several scholarships to the University of Pittsburgh where she found chemistry "illogical - I just couldn't do it" and switched to physics. She won graduate fellowships at Johns Hopkins where she and her physicist husband Gary, whom she met at Pitt, both received PhDs.

"When we got married the idea of women having a career was not all that common," Prinz recalled. "All the other grad students had umpteen children. I did an awful lot of soul-searching, because I think young children are better off with a mother at home. But in experimental physics, if you're out of it for a few years, you've got an ancient talent. It was an either/or situation."

Three National Science Foundation grants later, Prinz came to the Naval Research Lab where radar and sonar were discovered.

Bartoe, who has long thick grey hair, is from the town of Hulmeville, Pa., a former stagecoach stop on the Philadelphia to Trenton line. The son of a physicist and teacher, Bartoe thought he wanted to be an engineer when he went to Lehigh University. At 21, when he graduated as a physics major, Bartoe got a job at the Naval Lab and stayed. He earned a PhD in physics from Georgetown in 1976.

Both Prinz and Bartoe, who have worked together on earlier projects, say it is love of pure science and the ability to monitor their own experiment that caused them to apply for the Spacelab mission.

Prinz, who has a color poster of the earth with the saying "Love Your Mother" tacked on her office wall, elaborates: "Most of us have seen first-hand the pictures the astronauts took from Skylab. All of us have in the mind the spectacular view. You're above the debris and pollution and the earth is such a magnificently beautiful planet."

Prinz seems very nonchalant about the possibility of being one of the first women in space. With some amazement she recalls an interview with a woman from NASA. "This woman came in and asked me if I had any makeup requests on the mission, did I sleep in the nude, did I shave my legs. I couldn't believe it. On rocket missions (experiments) you rough it - you're used to working all the time and sleeping in your clothes and catching food whenever you can."

Rocket missions are something both have experienced. Many are launched at White Sands Missle Range in the desert of New Mexico. "I aged five years on one of those missions," Prinz said. "What happens is you're down there in nowheresville and you need something like a piece of hose. I remember once the (cargo) misfired and came down in the White Sands National Monument, so we paid our dollar's admission and went in and got it. Fortunately it didn't land on anybody."

Bartoe, recently returned from a rocket mission in White Sands, said his two sons, age 7 and 11, are very excited by his selection. "It's definitely a thrill. You get an occasional sensation of what it'll be like when an airplane takes a dip. I'm looking forward to the weightlessness."

A soccer coach and Cub Scout master in Reston, Bartoe says he's trying to gradually disengage himself from some of what he calls his "extracurricular" activities in preparation for the travel the mission will require.

"I'm really not afraid at all," he said, "but there is a joke that all these space vehicles are built by the lowest bidder."

Prinz, who lives in the Mason Hills section of Fairfax, said she will cut back on gardening and the time she and her husband spend riding their 20-year-old horse. "It has been an advantage to both be in the same field," Prinz said. "You have the same perspective about what to do around the house."

The idea of orbiting the earth, while awesome, doesn't seem to faze Prinz. "If it were a lunar mission," she said, hands clasped behind her head, "that would be something out of the ordinary. But Spacelab is just far enough to make the earth look pretty but not to be too far out."