Home >  News and Events >  News Details  

News and Events

Calling the International Space Station, over: MU Helps Ft. Belvoir Children Connect with Astronaut Koichi Wakata

Monday, February 24, 2014
How much does a space suit weigh? 290 lbs!
If you were to throw a football in the ISS, what would it do? Go straight until it hit a wall, then float.
How do astronauts from different countries communicate on the space station? English and Russian are the two official languages.
These are just a few of the questions that International Space Station (ISS) astronaut Dr. Koichi Wakata of Japan answered from high above the Earth in his radio conversation with Ft. Belvoir Elementary School children on February 19.
The children had been excitedly preparing for the radio contact with the ISS since fall, when they learned that their application to NASA for the honor, which was prepared by Marymount University in partnership with the school, had been accepted. Only around 30 such contacts take place in the U.S. each year. They are coordinated through Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), a cooperative venture of NASA, the American Radio Relay League, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, and other international space agencies that schedule radio contacts between astronauts and schools. This contact with the ISS was made over speakerphone, conferenced via a ground station at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Marymount has an ongoing partnership with Ft. Belvoir Elementary. Dr. Usha Rajdev, professor of Education, and Marymount math and science education students worked closely with Kara Fahy, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focus teacher at the school, to help prepare the children for the contact. Dr. Eric Bubar, Marymount assistant professor of physics, served as the coordinator with NASA and the ARISS mentor. Both Dr. Bubar and Dr. Rajdev were on hand for contact day, along with seven MU education students who also assisted.

Marymount graduate student Brian Powell, who is pursuing his M.Ed. in elementary education and worked with the Ft. Belvoir children in the fall, said, “The students are so excited to talk with an astronaut on the space station. This expands what they've been doing in class. They can see the correlation between what they're studying and real jobs and responsibilities."

Following a couple of contact postponements due to responsibilities on the ISS, the day finally arrived. The children, dressed in white lab coats, were well prepared. They had learned about ham radios from members of the Vienna (Virginia) Wireless Society, experienced a simulation of an ARISS contact, learned about space and robotics, and sixth graders had even designed and tested their own heat shields.

Seventeen children, ranging from first to sixth grade, were selected to ask their questions, but the whole student body had been involved in the study of space and the submission of questions; those not in the room watched the video feed in their own classrooms.

Sixth grader Osvaldo Cruz, who wants to be an engineer, wanted to know if there were engineers on the space crew. Dr. Wakata said that four of the six astronauts were indeed engineers. Second grader Xavier Jenkins asked if it was hot or cold in space and was amazed to learn that the temperature varied from 250◦ F to - 250◦F!

Dr. Wakata’s answers to their questions covered studying the effects of gravity, missing family (but being able to email and have video chats), and feeling like superman the first time he was in space. When a first grader asked if it was fun in zero gravity, he replied, “It’s lots of fun! I hope you will come to space one day and swim in space like a dolphin!” Dr. Wakata also conveyed the wonder of being in space and looking down at Earth. He explained, “The view of Earth is magnificent. We’re so lucky to live on such a beautiful planet!”

All too soon, the 10-minute connection was lost as the ISS hurtled out of range at 17,500 miles-per-hour. But the excitement continued. As they settled down to write thank you notes to Dr. Wakata, Kaylin Brown, a sixth grader, said, “It’s really cool! It made me feel excited, happy, and nervous all at once. I never talked to an astronaut before. It’s special because my dad’s a pilot, and I want to be a teacher.”

Some of the children talked about possibly one day becoming astronauts themselves. But that’s not for everyone. Fifth grader Jacob Reinhardt stated, “When I was younger, I did consider becoming an astronaut for a while. But now I want to be a paleontologist.”

Whatever their dreams for the future, their STEM teacher, Kara Fahy, is thrilled to see them so excited about science. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them,” she explained. Marymount’s Dr. Bubar added, “It brings the science alive!”

ARISS was developed to inspire an interest in STEM subjects and in STEM careers among young people; provide an educational opportunity for students, teachers and the general public to learn about space exploration, space technologies, and satellite communications, as well as wireless technology and radio science through Amateur Radio; and provide for Amateur Radio experimentation and evaluation of new technologies.

PHOTO 1 – Ft. Belvoir 6th grader Chandler Luster asks Dr. Koichi Wakata his question about how the ISS team fixed a heating and cooling problem, as fellow students wait their turn. Kara Fahy, their STEM teacher, and Dr. Eric Bubar, Marymount assistant professor of physics, look on.

PHOTO 2 – 5th grader Avril Moyer asks what it’s like to be on the outside of the ISS in a space suit.

PHOTO 3 – 1st grader Aiden McFarland asks, “Do you miss your family, and how do you communicate with them?

PHOTO 4 – Marymount senior Jaqueline Meneses helps 2nd grader Hunter Erwin with his thank you letter to Dr. Koichi Wakata.

PHOTO 5 – Group photo