Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
For five intense minutes, 17 Earth-bound students sat waiting, wondering what it would be like to talk directly to astronauts in space through a live two-way video connection. Finally, their rare opportunity came.
"And we copy, we are ready to start the event," said the male voice over the speaker from Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Then, for the next 20 minutes, the students from Jim Bridger Middle School in North Las Vegas were connected via Mission Control to the International Space Station in orbit high above the Earth.
The event, part of the NASA Explorers School program, provided students with a relatively short window of opportunity to interview astronauts Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus before the the space station's orbit took it out of communication range.
While all students in this Civil Air Patrol school enrichment program — one of the school’s magnet focuses — attended the event at the school’s gymnasium, the lucky 17 were chosen for the thoughtful questions they came up with weeks earlier.
The students’ questions ranged from “How has life changed since living on the space station?” to “What does it feel like to travel on the Soyuz rocket?” And the astronauts tried to answer every question — although they didn’t get to all 17 students with the limited time frame.
“This was awesome. This is my 25th year of teaching and I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced anything quite as awe-inspiring to see the astronauts and to hear the great questions the students had of the astronauts,” said Capt. Terence Wood, one of the instructors in the school's aerospace and aviation program. “This was probably one of the high points of my teaching career.”
The unique event came about after Capt. A Carey Sperling, an aerospace education teacher at the school, applied for the chance to interact with the astronauts, something only a few schools experience during each space mission.
“Every mission, schools are allowed to fill out an application to see if their school can have an International Space Station downlink,” Sperling said. “I filled out the request, answered all the questions, I made sure that we had everything we needed … and we were chosen.”
Sperling was confident the school would be chosen because they had all of the right equipment set-up and being a NASA Explorers school helped, too.
“It’s an awesome privilege, a lot of schools probably (went out for it), I’m just really grateful that our school was chosen,” Bridger eighth-grader Alex Domerowski, 13, said. Domerowski said he enjoyed talking to the astronauts and wants to become a pilot some day.
The astronauts took turns answering the student’s questions, making sure to show off their anti-gravity somersaults on the video screen when not on the microphone.
“I am so glad that we interviewed these two astronauts, I think that they were able to answer the kids' questions on a level they could understand and it helped they were a couple of jokers playing around so we could actually see they were in space,” Sperling said.
Sperling was not the only one enjoying time with the students. At the end of the broadcast, astronaut Sandra Magnus said, “This is the part of our job that we really enjoy. It's always great to talk with students and you guys had really great questions.”