ALAMOGORDO — Local students spoke to Scott Tingle, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, in a 20-minute Earth-to-space call during a monumental event with NASA Wednesday morning.
The call, also referred to as a downlink, was hosted as part of NASA’s Year of Education on Station program, which is designed to enhance student learning, performance and interest in the STEM careers.
This year, NASA selected the New Mexico Museum of Space History, Alamogordo Public Schools and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to host one of 14 downlink events across the nation. The local event was monumental as it was the first time NASA selected a K-12 school in New Mexico to host a downlink.
Students from Alamogordo High School, Academy Del Sol, Chaparral Middle School, Mountain View Middle School, Holloman Middle School and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired formed six teams. Each team sent one spokesperson to ask Tingle one question during the downlink.
A student from Chaparral Middle School asked if there are time zones in space. Tingle responded that the International Space Station observes Greenwich Mean Time, but astronauts set up world clocks so they can see what time zone their loved ones are in.
A Mountain View Middle School student asked Tingle to describe what an orbital sunrise looks like.
“An orbital sunrise is beautiful,” Tingle said. “Picture pure black, you’re looking at a sky full of stars and you start seeing an arch cut through those stars. You can barely make out the Earth’s curvature and then all of sudden you get a little bit of a blue ring. You look really close and realize it’s the thin atmosphere that covers our Earth starting to turn blue as the Sun’s starting to come up behind the Earth. As it proceeds, the blue ring gets thicker and thicker and then you can start seeing more of the Earth and you see the sun come up. When you look down at the Earth, you’re still over dark Earth – there’s still a lot of Earth dark because it’s night, but when you look up the Space Station is totally in the daylight because it’s at a higher altitude. It’s an amazing thing.”
An Academy Del Sol student inquired about the kinds of stress the astronauts deal with in space.
“There’s all kinds of stress going on,” Tingle said. “There’s schedule stress primarily because we’re always trying to get a lot of work done and keep everybody happy. Some things might be going on at home, at work and all the personal things we experience on Earth. The way we deal with it is we have our crew mates and we’re like a family, we’ve been training together for a long time, we like each other, we make fun of each other and we laugh – there’s never somebody we can’t talk to.”
As part of NASA’s educational requirement, each of the six teams designed, built, tested and presented a small payload based around the effect of zero gravity on fluids during the downlink event.
Following the downlink, students were treated to a presentation from John “Danny” Olivas, an El Paso native who was selected by NASA to be an astronaut and fly aboard STS-117 Atlantis in 2007 and STS-128 Discovery in 2009.
Olivas said his favorite part of the downlink was the level of enthusiasm he saw in Alamogordo’s students.
“It’s so refreshing to hear such really great questions that the students of Alamogordo came up with,” Olivas said. “To see them involved in the payloads that they developed with the New Mexico Museum of Space History, the general level of excitement and the respect – I was very impressed with the students here in Alamogordo.”
Science wasn’t the only thing celebrated during Wednesday’s downlink. The event brought the Alamogordo Public Schools and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NMSBVI) together and it didn’t go unnoticed by both districts.
“To be able to be involved in a project like this and have our students exposed to a larger universe, understanding the world is much larger than beyond their nose and to explore science in a way they didn’t think was possible – it’s been huge for us,” said NMSBVI science teacher Jeff Killebrew. “Our students learned how to do experimentation, how to revise experiments and how to contribute to the community and world as a whole.”
Alamogordo Public Schools Superintendent Adrianne Salas agreed having NMSBVI students involved in the downlink was beneficial to everyone.
“We should be doing more of that,” Salas said. “A lot of the times we get so busy within the realm of our schools that we forget other schools in the community. I think including them was fantastic because it also enabled our kids to see they’re doing the same thing we are – presenting, running the project and they’re going to analyze it just like we are. You can do what you put your heart to.”
Salas also gave a special thank you to the New Mexico Museum of Space History for gifting local students with the NASA downlink.
“We are very lucky to have them,” Salas said. “Unfortunately, we don’t take advantage of (the museum) the way we need to take advantage of it. I don’t mean just in education and the schools, I mean people here don’t know what’s up there. They really need to get out there and see what’s up there because that’s part of our legacy that we’ve got a museum that has everything about what’s going on in space.”
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