Stillwater News Press

November 30, 2012

Stillwater students converse with astronaut in live NASA downlink

By Mark Rountree
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — For the last week, Stillwater Middle School sixth-grader Sadie Baumann had been practicing to ask her question to international space station mission commander Kevin Ford.

On Friday, she got the chance.

“What do you like most about being an astronaut?” asked Baumann.

Through a live NASA downlink, Ford said that being an astronaut and working in the space station “was a surreal experience.”

Baumann was one of 16 students, including two Oklahoma State University students, who spoke to Ford at the Wes Watkins Center Exhibit Hall.

OSU’s College of Education and NASA Education Projects hosted the downlink with NASA Expedition 34 for approximately 450 Stillwater Middle School sixth-grade students. The event, one of six student downlink sessions selected by NASA this year, was streamed live on OStateTV.

Ford told the students that the space station is a complex system of components, and rarely does everything run perfectly. He said during his spare time, he watches football, communicates with friends back on earth and looks out the window of the space station. He also said that when he returns to earth, he would like to eat pizza, which received a rousing round of applause from the students.

As he was saying goodbye to the students, Ford did a slow head over heels flip in the zero-gravity space station.

“Hopefully, this gives the students a chance to visualize what their future might be,” said OSU professor Steve Marks. “Space exploration is very important to the United States.

“We have been in the space station constantly for the last 12 years. The next generation with these folks coming up, it’s very important learning about careers in space.”

Stillwater Middle School science teacher Jenny Bobo said students prepared for their downlink visit with Ford by researching about what it is like to live in space and what kind of experiments are conducted in the space station.

“I anticipated it would be really cool and it definitely was,” said Bobo.

“I know the students were really excited about it. I just thought it was awesome they got to talk with an astronaut in space. ... There were questions they were wanting to ask that were burning in their minds. They have been asking them over and over in the classroom.”

Sixth-grade student Carson Scott said the downlink was “a very interesting, unique experience,” and said it will increase his interest in learning more about the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Approximately 40 OSU education students taught lessons about mass and weight to the students leading up to downlink.

“I believe the students got more out of this because of the lessons they did with the OSU students and with our teachers and our research,” said Bobo.

OSU President Burns Hargis made a surprise visit at the end of the event.

“Wow, how cool is this?” said Hargis, who earlier on Friday attended the Board of Regents meeting at Langston University. “This is about the coolest thing I’ve seen around here.”

Hargis said that OStateTV received approximately 6,500 unique visitors during the broadcast.

Before the downlink began, NASA education specialist Brian Hawkins spoke to the students about how astronauts live in space.

Several students were selected to try on space suits. He also spoke to them about how unique their experience would be.

“You are part of history,” he said. “You are part of the mission.”

“I don’t know that the opportunity will ever arise again, but we definitely want to do this again,” said Bobo.