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New Mexico kids chat with astronauts in orbit

This photo from last week shows, from left, NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Timothy Kopra, and British astronaut Timothy Peake aboard the International Space Station. Williams spoke with Albuquerque students from outer space on Friday as part of a nationwide effort to get students interested in space. (NASA via AP)

This photo from last week shows, from left, NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Timothy Kopra, and British astronaut Timothy Peake aboard the International Space Station. Williams spoke with Albuquerque students from outer space on Friday as part of a nationwide effort to get students interested in space. (NASA via AP)

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Tristan Chavez, a third-grader at Carlos Rey Elementary School in southwest Albuquerque, did something Friday morning that few people ever do – he spoke with an astronaut who was 249 miles above Earth on the International Space Station.

“Hello. My name’s Tristan Chavez. I’m a third-grader from Carlos Rey Elementary School and I’m here to ask the astronauts a question. What is the most interesting or amazing thing you have seen in space? Would you relive that moment if you had the chance? Over.”

“Tristan, there are many amazing things I have seen in space, but one of them that comes to mind is the eruption of a volcano,” replied NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, one of six crewman currently on the space station.

Williams, 58, said he viewed the eruption from space in 2006 while serving as flight engineer on another space station mission.

The quick exchange was part of Albuquerque Public Schools’ STEM Trajectory Initiative, an effort started three years ago to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through project-based learning.

Tristan Chavez, a third-grader at Carlos Rey Elementary School, poses a question Friday to astronaut Jeff Williams, one of six crewman currently on the International Space Station. (Courtesy of Albuquerque Public Schools)

Tristan Chavez, a third-grader at Carlos Rey Elementary School, poses a question Friday to astronaut Jeff Williams, one of six crewman currently on the International Space Station. (Courtesy of Albuquerque Public Schools)

With the assistance of the High Desert Amateur Radio Club of New Mexico, NASA and the local science community, 11 students from Carlos Rey Elementary, Garfield, Taft and John Adams middle schools, and Valley and West Mesa high schools, had the brief opportunity to ask the space station’s crew about their time in space.

Although radio club president Jerry Aceto had planned for a nine-minute “window” during which the space station would be in position above New Mexico to field the questions, only three students were able to ask their questions before losing contact with Williams – and his replies were difficult to hear on the sound system of Valley High School’s packed Performing Arts Center.

But Dave Dooling, education director for the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, was on hand to answer most of the students’ questions, which ranged from Tristan’s “amazing sights” question to how often space station astronauts exercise: an hour or two six days a week.

Alma Ripley, assistant principal at Carlos Rey, who coordinated the event with the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, said the radio chat had been in the works for about a year and that Valley High was one of about a dozen schools selected from nearly 1,000 applicants worldwide to participate.

“My teacher asked me if I would like to do a speech for ARISS and I said, ‘Sure,'” Tristan said as he explained how he got to chat with an astronaut. “I enjoyed it. When I first got here, I met everybody and we started practicing. It was good, awesome,” he said.

Williams, flight engineer for the International Space Station’s Expedition 47, is slated to be commander for the ISS’ next expedition, according to the ISS website.

The current expedition began on March 1 and is scheduled to end June 5. During the expedition, researchers will investigate spaceflight’s effect on the musculoskeletal system, the ability of tablets to dissolve in microgravity and how robotics can make exercise equipment smaller so crew members have more room during long-duration missions.

Joining Williams on Expedition 47 are: mission commander Timothy Kopra, 53; Timothy Peake, 44, the first British European Space Agency astronaut to visit the space station; cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, 54; flight engineer Oleg Skripochka, 46; and Alexey Ovchinin, 44, Soyuz commander. The cosmonauts work for the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

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