Area students quiz Space Station astronauts via video

NASA astronauts (from left) Joe Acaba, Andre Kuipers and Don Pettit talk to the kids on a giant screen at the Philadelphia University gym from International Space Station on June 26, 2012. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
NASA astronauts (from left) Joe Acaba, Andre Kuipers and Don Pettit talk to the kids on a giant screen at the Philadelphia University gym from International Space Station on June 26, 2012. ( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )
Posted: June 27, 2012

For 250 of Philadelphia's young people, 20 questions wasn't a guessing game but the number of chances to hear firsthand from astronauts on the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers spoke via a satellite video to 250 Philadelphia Destination Imagination participants visiting the Philadelphia University campus Tuesday morning. The questions may have sounded mundane to many on Earth, but the answers from space elicited laughs and cheers from the audience.

"How do you do laundry in space?" You don't.

"Do you get to keep pets?" Only if you count lab specimens.

"What do you sleep on?" In a sleeping bag, and sometimes you wake up floating on the ceiling.

Destination Imagination, a Cherry Hill-based nonprofit educational program, received one of six invitations to communicate with astronauts on the space station about eight months ago, said Chuck Cadle, the group's chief executive. Twenty of the Destination Imagination participants, a group made up of local residents, area Boys and Girls Club members, and day campers, were given questions to read collected from Destination Imagination students in Knoxville, Tenn., that had been screened by NASA. The students from Tennessee also listened to the astronauts.

Cadle, who wanted to join NASA's mission control as a child, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Before the group heard from the astronauts, Cadle asked how many wanted to join NASA. About five raised their hands. After the 20-minute session, he asked again and saw about 40 hands shoot up.

"Events like this introduce students to science," Cadle said. "We want to teach them about the mystery behind it."

The one-day event also featured an appearance by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, senior member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. Throughout the day there were hands-on challenges for the students, such as working in a team to create from household materials a container that would keep an egg safe when dropped.

"No matter how much you find out, there's always going to be more," said Tracey Riley, 16, who attended the event with the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club. She asked the astronauts if they experienced the same thoughts and feelings in space as on Earth. Riley was told astronauts have the same feelings, but have to think differently about performing basic actions, such as setting a glass down and its not staying there.

The young participants were not the only ones whose interest in space was piqued by the experience. Britt Dyer, the Destination Imagination special projects and events director who ran the question session, admitted that on a whim, she had looked up the application form to become a NASA astronaut while preparing for the event. She said that speaking with the astronauts was "surreal," and that she hoped the young participants would be inspired to think about the space frontier.

"Kids think about being basketball players or football players. They don't know that there are all these opportunities," Dyer said.

Ka'alea Rennie, 10, who asked how astronauts sleep in space, said she did not want to become an astronaut, but after talking to those aboard the International Space Station would consider a brief excursion into space.

"Maybe once in my life," Ka'alea said, "but not for a very long time


."

Contact Dara McBride at 215-854-4904 or dmcbride@philly.com .

|
|
|
|
|