Q-C kids talk really long-distance to Space Station

Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2013, 7:01 pm
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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com
From more than 200 miles above the Earth, NASA astronaut and flight engineer Tom Marshburn, M.D., told roughly 250 area second- through ninth-grade students Friday that his training and preparation for space began when he was their age.

The National Geographic Giant Screen Theater at the Putnam Museum in Davenport buzzed with nerves and excitement as nearly 20 students asked Dr. Marshburn and NASA astronaut and commander Kevin Ford questions during a live call through NASA's "Teaching From Space" program.

The Putnam was one of just six sites across the nation in the first half of the year to be chosen for the program.

The astronauts on the call are currently on Expedition 34 aboard the International Space Station that is orbiting the Earth at about 17,500 miles per hour.

As students asked questions from the front row of the theater, the crowd's eyes were on the screen, watching the astronauts listen and take turns answering. The two floated the microphone to each other between questions.

After Mr. Ford quickly welcomed the crowd aboard, the students began their questions. With only about 20 minutes of talk time, they had to be fast.

Questions included everything from how long the two will spend on the spacecraft (about five months) to what they found difficult about being aboard (such as organizing things so they don't float away, and getting the hang of eating and sleeping in space).

Davenport North High School ninth grader Jasmonique Freeman, 16, of Davenport, asked the astronauts whether they ever felt claustrophobic or in need of alone time since they share such a small space.

After just a hair of a delay, Mr. Ford said the crew is close with one another, but whenever it gets rough, you go to a "happy place" and find techniques to cope with it.

Her classmate, Lexi Jessen, 15, of Davenport, asked the astronauts about adjusting to the lack of gravity in space.

Dr. Marshburnanswered while Mr. Ford smiled and floated around in front of the camera.

Dr. Marshburn said working without gravity tends to make hard work easy, and easy work hard. Pushing heavy boxes, for instance, is quite easy in space. "But it's really hard to find a place to put your pencil."

At the same time, though, "it's a lot of fun."

One of the best parts about being in space is getting there.The launch isa "very special experience," Mr. Ford said.

During launch, the crew is flat on their backs for nine minutes as the craft pushes into space. With all of the noise and vibrating going on, there's "no doubt about it that something special is happening with that rocket," Mr. Ford said.

"It's quite a neat experience," he said, adding that it's about the most exciting thing he'll ever do in his life.

Dr. Marshburn said launching has topped all of his experiences, too. In his professional career, he has been a doctor and many other things, he said. But the experience of a launch? "That tops them all."

One student asked what astronauts could see from space.

Mr. Ford said they could see Earth, of course, which looks like a big ball.

The craft orbits Earth once every 90 minutes, Mr. Ford said, so the crew gets to see the oceans, continents, clouds, the sun and moon, and sometimes they can see icebergs, islands and cities lit up at night.

"It's really a beautiful view."

Another student asked how the astronauts exercise.

Exercise in space is "very, very important," Dr. Marshburn said, adding that if they didn't, their muscles and bones would atrophy. To exercise, they can use bungee cords to hold themselves to treadmills and a resistance machine for exercises such as squats and weight lifting.

Alexis Schutters, 12, a sixth grader at Smart Middle School in Davenport, asked the astronauts about the jobs and tasks aboard the craft.

Mr. Ford said the crew has many jobs on board, including taking care of the Space Station's "life support" systems, such as the toilet, communication, cooling systems and more, as well as the hundreds of experiments going on at once for the scientists on Earth.

"(We're the) eyes, ears and hands, if you will, of the scientists on the ground," Mr. Ford said.

Soon, the two had to sign off. But before they did, they showed off a bit for the crowd. They rolled around, did back flips and hovered upside down as they waved good-bye.

Even though the astronauts couldn't see the kids, they waved back.

Davenport North High School Earth science teacher Teri Wiese said the experience was also great for the teachers. They participated in a teacher's workshop, and curriculum also was provided that tied into the museum's new exhibit, "Destination: Space."

"This is wonderful," Ms. Wiese said. It's "amazing that these kids are getting this chance."

That chance was a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," saidPutnam President and CEO, Kim Findlay.

The demand for workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is growing, she said, and hopefully the exhibits at the Putnam and the astronaut call will help foster interest in the kids who visit.

Receiving the call, she said,was "such a privilege, such an honor for our area."


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