It started as static and ended as a conversation out of this world for students of Talcott Mountain Academy of Science, Mathematics & Technology and area schools.
On Thursday, the Avon independent day school facilitated communication with Canadian astronaut Christopher Hadfield as he passed over Connecticut in NASA's International Space Station at the speed of 17,500 miles per hour. The contact lasted for about 10 minutes.
Fourteen academy and visiting students from Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy in Hartford and the House of Arts, Letters & Sciences (HALS) in New Britain had the opportunity to ask Hadfield questions. They inquired about everything from how astronauts know whether to sleep or stay awake in the darkness of space to what astronauts do in their free time. Many other students from the schools were also there for the event.
It was Talcott Mountain Academy's first contact with the International Space Station, though NASA astronauts have visited the school to talk to the students before, according to Jonathan Craig, executive director of Talcott Mountain Science Center. The academy was the first Connecticut school to do so through NASA's Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program after applying for the opportunity.
"To be able to do that directly with the space station is really a challenge," Craig said, acknowledging the American Radio Relay League for helping to make it happen.
Long Island resident Bob Greenberg, NASA mentor for the Northeastern region of the United States, coordinated the contact, his eighth one. Greenberg's 12-year-old son, Jesse led the radio commands. It was Jesse's third space station contact session, having done one at home and another at a school. Greenberg said his son is one of at least three fourth generation amateur radio operators in the world.
The event was held in the planetarium dedicated to Alan Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon and an artist with work featured in the Greenwich Workshop Gallery. A painting he did specifically for the academy called "Lunar High Five, First Mission and Imagined Leap of Celebration" was featured on The Colbert Report and Stephen Colbert dubbed it "the most awesome painting in the history of anything."
Hadfield told the students that he's been in space for 128 days and said he is slated to go home in two weeks. Looking out the space station window, he said could see a lot of Earth's oceans.
All school subjects are important preparatory steps to becoming an astronaut because processing a lot of information is a big part of the job, Hadfield said.
When asked about what he does for fun, he said that the astronauts take a lot of pictures and contact family when they can. An hour a day is set aside for leisure.
There's no running water on the space station, so Hadfield said he uses wet wipes to clean his hands. He doesn't need to use much force to pick up things in space because of the lack of gravity, so that's an adjustment when he returns to Earth.
Rachael Manzer, an astronaut candidate and Annie Fisher STEM Magnet School coach, also spoke to the students Thursday. She is one of seven people and the only teacher in Connecticut training through the Space Frontier Foundation's Teachers in Space program, which began three years ago. NASA previously ran the program and disbanded it after the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986, she said.
In the future, she will fly on a commercial space shuttle with other teachers to test students' experiments in outer space and educate them.
"This truly is a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to be able to talk to astronauts in space while they're working," she said. "Space captivates young and old."
She left the students with one parting thought.
"The question is not going to be, 'can I fly?'" she said. "It's, 'how many times can I fly?'"
The following students got to ask Hadfield questions:
- Kimberly Alexander, of Hartford - Renzulli Academy
- Anaisja Henry, of Hartford - Renzulli Academy
- Mekyiah, of Hartford - Renzulli Academy
- Kiley Griffin, of New Britain - HALS Academy
- Michael Delgado, of New Britain - HALS Academy
- Drake Muth, of Windsor - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Christoph Steinmayer, of Goshen - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Christian Bird, of West Hartford - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Parker Gagnon, of Rocky Hill - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Joshua Davidson, of West Hartford - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Alyssa Pace, of New Britain - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Sarah Metcalf, of Suffield - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Hannah Freeman, of Bristol - Talcott Mountain Academy
- Mariapia Asca, of Newington - Talcott Mountain Academy