El Dorado County students had a chance to have a live conversation with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station Tuesday.
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Arranged through the El Dorado County Office of Education, the El dorado Center of Folsom Lake College and the Community Observatory, a radio link-up was set up between 250 students and adults in the county office’s activity building and the space station.
The link was arranged by the ARISS program which is a cooperative venture of NASA and other international space agencies. It organizes scheduled contacts via amateur radio between astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the ISS and classrooms and communities.
Previously 139 students in grades 3 through 5 filled out an online survey and submitted questions about the International Space Station to NASA. NASA subsequently picked 20 of the questions to answer and students then posed the questions, one by one, to Cmdr. Daniel C. Burbank. Burbank is one of two Americans currently aboard the space station along with one European and three Russians. Students in other El Dorado County classes had the presentation streamed live to them.
Students’ questions covered a range of subjects, including how do astronauts sleep on the space station, what kinds of animals have lived aboard, what kinds of food do the astronauts eat, and how do they deal with weightlessness?
Burbank said that the astronauts sleep in a sleeping bag that is tethered to the ceiling. They zip themselves in so they don’t float around while sleeping. As far as animals, they have only had two spiders aboard. He noted that when the spiders first arrived on the space station, they constructed uncharacteristic three-dimensional webs. But once they adapted, their webs returned to normal. As for food, Burbank said they don’t get pizza, but they pretty much eat the same kind of food that’s eaten on Earth, such as steaks, brisket, and lasagna.
The children also asked about the effects of weightlessness. The astronauts currently stay on the space station for six months at a time, but Burbank said that some have stayed in space as long as a year.
“We’re like superman,” he joked. “We can fly everywhere.” However to stay in shape in the zero gravity atmosphere, their daily regimen includes at least two hours of exercise on five different pieces of exercise equipment.
The astronauts stay busy by fulfilling many roles, including that of scientist, technician, experimental subject, and repairman. Burbank said they have seen many beautiful things while in space but most beautiful was a comet streaking over the horizon at Christmas.
Once the link with Cmdr. Burbank was closed, a volunteer with the NASA program gave an overview of facts and figures about the space station. Nick Poppelreiter, a software engineer in Citrus Heights, gave a quick rundown on the space station, which has been staffed since 2000.
He stated that the space station zips through space at 17,000 mph and orbits earth 15 times a day. It is the size of a football field — including the end zones — with huge solar panels that help it generate energy. Its interior is the equivalent of a six-bedroom home at 3,700 square feet and includes five state-of-the-art labs. It receives regular shipments of food and other supplies via vehicles from different space partners. Water is used and reused as much as possible. If an emergency were to arise, two Soyuz spacecrafts are available to return all the astronauts to earth safely.
The International Space Station is the result of international collaboration among five different space agencies and 15 countries. Over 600 science experiments have been conducted aboard the space station and research findings are funneled down for use. Private companies are now being allowed to use the facility for scientific research as well.
Students can track the International Space Station via the NASA Website. Poppelreiter concluded his presentation by encouraging students to study math and science so that they too can go on to become astronauts or work in the space industry. “Behind every astronaut are thousands of other people,” he said.