ALAMOGORDO – New Mexico students from six schools recently spoke to Scott Tingle, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, in a 20-minute Earth-to-space call known as a downlink during a NASA event.
The call, part of NASA’s Year of Education on Station program, is designed to enhance student learning, performance and interest in 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 the first time NASA selected a New Mexico K-12 school 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 space has time zones. Tingle said the International Space Station observes Greenwich Mean Time, but astronauts set up world clocks to see what time zones 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, 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 students.
“It’s so refreshing to hear such really great questions that the students of Alamogordo came up with,” Olivas said.
The event brought the Alamogordo Public Schools and the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired 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.
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