Beam them up: Students chat with space station astronaut

BUCKHANNON — Local fourth and fifth graders connected with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station Thursday with a 20-minute question and answer session.

Expedition 54 astronaut Joe Acaba is in his fourth month of a 5 ½ month stay aboard the ISS and shared some of his experiences with the students from Tennerton, Washington District and Hodgesville elementary schools.

Acaba said being an astronaut was something he had dreamed about since he was a kid as he read about space exploration.

He said the astronauts stay very healthy in space because they are quarantined prior to launch, so colds and flus are not common.

As to what it feels like to have zero gravity in space, he compared it to being a pool.

“Part of it feels like you are in water,” he said. “When we train to do space walks, we actually train in a pool.”

Temperatures outside the ISS range from -150 F to 250 F as the ISS orbits. However, inside the ISS Acaba said it is a lot like being on earth.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but when you are doing what you love, the work doesn’t seem so hard.”

The ISS functions as a laboratory with astronauts doing experiments.

When it comes to meal times, the food is pretty tasty but Acaba admitted he was looking forward to pizza and a “big, fat bacon cheeseburger” when he returns to earth.

Another interesting fact about life on the ISS?

They do not wash their clothes but wear them and throw away as needed.

Once a week, Acaba said he video conferences with his family.

Because they live in different states, Acaba said, “I think I actually see them more in space than I do when I am at home.”

He also joked that he tells people he has the best phone ever.

“I can call anyone I want, but no one can call me,” he said.

About a dozen students were able to ask questions.

Hannah Robinson, a fifth grader from Washington District, had asked Acaba about not being able to take regular food from earth into space. Acaba discussed freeze-dried and dehydrated foods and showed some in the call floating in the ISS.

“I think it’s cool that it floats,” she said.

Hannah said she was excited and the entire experience was very cool.

Kaydence Monti, a fifth grader at Hodgesville, asked about welding in space — something Acaba couldn’t quite answer because he had not done that.

“He said it was kind of hard to answer,” Kaydence said. “I would still like to know.”

Kaydence said it was “really cool” to be able to talk to Acaba and she also enjoyed the experiments that Dr. Ed Wovchko and Thomas Wood coordinated before the talk — especially the exploding balloons.

She added that she and her best friend did a science project on rocket propulsion to prepare for Thursday.

Suzanne Bohman, a counselor at Tennerton and Hodgesville Elementary, helped coordinate the NASA call and experience.

The process was competitive and not many elementary schools are chosen.

She said she had watched a West Point cadet’s video about their experience in preparation.

“We’re really thankful that we were able to do this and the kids have this experience,” she said.

Jesse White, education specialist for NASA, said it is also difficult to coordinate with astronauts’ schedules.

However, White said he is hoping to work with any school or group to host the opportunity around the state.

Academic institutions usually make the best venues because they have space for an audience and sound equipment.

Dr. Joanna Webb, assistant professor of chemistry, said the college’s Benzine Ring Chemistry Club and Space/Physics Club were able to sit in on the presentation and do different stations with experiments.

The college students also made up goody bags that all the fourth and fifth graders would get to take home.

The day was a great experience for the college students, according to Webb.

“It’s cool that they get to do it,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity for them to be able to communicate science to a younger generation and get them excited about it. That’s what we really like to do, bring kids in and get them excited so they want to come to college and learn about science.”

Christy Gaudet is a fifth- grade teacher at Tennerton and said her students have been studying space all year.

“They have been so excited,” she said. “The second week of school we took them to Green Bank Observatory for the watch party for the solar eclipse.”

To prepare for Thursday, the fifth grades dove into space exploration and the solar system.

“We explored a little bit about the International Space Station and what it’s like to be in space for an extended period of time,” she said. “We studied the solar system and created models which the students brought today.”

Gaudet said the day’s activities would hopefully excite her students to keep learning.

“I think they will take an excitement about science and math and hopefully keep that,” she said.

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