"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . " would probably be the best way to begin a story about Dale City's newest elementary school, which opened last week.

The school - called Enterprise after the NASA space shuttle - has rocketed like the film "Star Wars" into the imaginations of students, teachers and parents.

From their star-studded red, white and blue T-shirts to excited calls to NASA about the new school, parents as well as students have gotten involved.

The school opening last week attracted more than a thousand people, including former moon-walking astronaut of Apollo 17 fame, Sen. Harrison Schmidtt (R-N.M.).

He told the group of students, parents and school officials that Enterprise Elementary students are young enough to have a chance to visit Mars, "and stay there."

"So, someday soon," he told parents in the crowd, "you can say you are the parents of Martians." With that, the crowd burst into laughter.

The sweltering heat did not dampen the spirits of the crowd at the formal opening.

The eyes of the children widened when Schmidtt told of his moon landing at Taurus-Littrow, a place he said was deeper than the Grand Canyon.

For 9-year-old Marshall Basham, who sat on the grass in front of the school and toyed with his shoe laces as Schmidtt spoke, there was adventure only a few paces away - in his shiny new classroom.

"It's going to be a nice school," he said.

Curtis Graves, a representative of NASA, presented the school with an 860-pound display of the space shuttle and a picture of the craft landing in the Mohave Desert during one of its test runs.

He told the crowd that Dale City's newest elementary school was the first in the nation to be named after the shuttle - a reusable spacecraft.

According to school principal Charles Riggs, the excitement began about a year ago when students had a contest to name their new school and decided to call it "Enterprise" and use "astronaut" as their mascot.

From then on it was pandemonium.

Parents and teachers made calls to NASA officials, created banners and flags, named hallways after astronauts and evengot one astronaut to donate pictures of the moon for classrooms in his hallway.

"A lot of people say we are a bunch of crazy fools," said Riggs, who added that parents have bought at least 200 of the T-shirts originally ordered for the children.

Riggs said his philosophy is that you have to "get down on the level of the elementary students to teach them." He said the fact that parents have gotten so involved is "exciting."

William Helton, Prince William superintendent of schools who attended the formal opening of Enterprise Elementary, explained that the small community in Dale City had to temporarily place its children in an overcrowded high school while plans were made for construction of the $2.2 million elementary school. He said the school was funded with profits from the Prince William county sale of several schools to Manassas.

As a result, Helton said, enthusiasm for the new school began building early and has blossomed into parent support.

He said another reason for the excitement about the school's name is that "a lot of the children's parents are in the Air Force or are employed in government-related scientific fields."

Helton said Prince William County has the fourth largest school system in the state and added that "Arlington, Falls Church and Alexandria's school systems combined do not add up to our school system population."

The only problem during the formal dedication came after most of the parents and school officials left.

The president of the local PTA, who wore an Enterprise T-shirt, told the school principal that the 860-pound NASA display that was to sit in the front hall of the school, would not fit through the front doors.

The principal suggested they find a fork lift to bring the large model through the loading doors into the cafeteria, which is where it now stands.