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Students, astronauts talk in real time during NASA downlink

December 17, 2013 | Telepresence Options

Kaylee Wade NASA

Story and images by Charles County Public Schools /

Exciting, incredible, magnificent.

That's how 20 Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) students described talking live to two astronauts on the International Space Station on Nov. 26.

Students began lining up to ask their questions as the words "We are ready. Charles County Public Schools, this is mission control Houston. Please call station for a voice check," flowed from the Telepresence screen at La Plata High School. Two astronauts appeared on a large screen and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) began Expedition 37/38, a live downlink from space as part of NASA's Teaching from Space initiative. CCPS is one of seven school systems selected to participate this year.

Twenty CCPS students had the opportunity to question Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastroacchio as the astronauts tossed the microphone back and forth and demonstrated zero gravity by floating around the space station. Students asked the astronauts about life and work in space.

Candace Jackson, a fourth-grade student at William A. Diggs Elementary School, said her favorite part was, "watching the astronauts float around and act silly when they answered my question." Jackson asked the astronauts, "Why doesn't the sun make outer space bright?" The fourth grader dreams of becoming a veterinarian or astronaut, and participates on the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) team at Diggs.

Students only had 20 minutes with the astronauts, and 18 were able to ask their questions. Questions included: "Have you ever done an experiment on the International Space Station where the results surprised you? How does it feel to walk on Earth when you come back from no gravity? Could you keep a live organism like a fish in space? Do you have to worry about static electricity while in space? In your opinion, would it be hard to live your whole life there if you had a life supply of food and water?

Time ran out before Gill-Jan Eleazar, a senior at North Point High School, was able to ask his question, but he took the opportunity to end the downlink by wishing the astronauts safe travels. Eleazar wants to join the Marine Corps after high school and possibly train to go to outer space. "When I found out about this opportunity, I started researching on how to become an astronaut," Eleazar said.

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