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AKTEACH, KMS students visit the International Space Station

November 5, 2015

AKTEACH, KMS students visit the International Space Station
By Noelle H. Lowery

What is the most beautiful thing you have seen? What do you do on an average day? How do you put milk in cereal? How do you bathe? How do you exercise? What is your greatest inspiration?

These are just some of the questions students from 10 schools around the United States — including Kodiak Middle School — recently asked Astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren while he floated around the International Space Station in low Earth orbit, 249 miles above the planet’s surface. The live interactive video link was the product of the continued partnership between AKTEACH and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Along with students from California, Colorado, Montana, Michigan and British Columbia, KMS students pre-recorded questions for Lindgren who had a live video link conversation with the schools and Steve Lee, curator of Planetary Sciences at the DMNS.

“Science fields such as astrophysics, cosmology or astronomy tend to not receive much focus in the public K-12 classroom,” says Anthony White, Statewide Virtual Content and STEM Program coordinator for AKTEACH. “Events like this help to expose students to these fields by engaging them in a real-time discussion with a scientist working in the field. We are extremely fortunate to have a working relationship with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.”

Lindgren — who currently is serving as flight engineer for the ISS — is three months into a five-month mission. While his main charge is to conduct some 240 scientific experiments, Lindgren also has the responsibility of helping to maintain the station. In fact, the day before the live student event, Lindgren and ISS Expedition 45 Commander Scott Kelly performed a seven-hour space walk in which they performed station upgrades and general maintenance, installing a thermal cover on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Lindgren himself also worked on the grabber tip of the robotic arm and routed cable on the outside of space station for aircraft docking.

During the video link, Lindgren told students the ISS is resupplied by four different aircraft from the U.S., Russia and Japan. He also explained that capsules from three of the four aircraft are sent back towards Earth full of garbage which burns up in the atmosphere. The fourth return capsule comes back to Earth with information and research results.
“So, sometimes that shooting star you see in the sky isn’t a shooting star,” joked Lindgren.

The astronaut fielded three questions from KMS students. First, he was asked what the most beautiful thing he had seen was? He described the beauty of Earth from space, calling it “totally amazing” and said the most beautiful thing he saw from the ISS was the greens and purples of the Aurora Borealis. “It gave me goose bumps,” he noted.
Another KMS student asked about exercising and moving in space, and still another questioned whether a sponge can absorb water in space. For the third question, Lindgren demonstrated using a washcloth to grab water bubbles in zero gravity.

For White, the student questions were a jumping off point to opening up a new world of science to kids. “Events like this help to expose students to different fields of science in a real-world context. Students are able to see how astronauts live, what they do on the International Space Station, and learn a bit about what life is like living up in space,” he explains.

“In the field of science, NASA has six focus areas that include research that not only addresses challenging science questions, but drives the development of an Earth observing capability and associated Earth models,” adds White. “These focus areas include atmospheric composition, weather, climate variability/change, water/energy cycles, and carbon cycles and ecosystems. Scientists living on the International Space Station, such as Kjell Lindren, have conducted a wealth of research on one or more of these focus areas.”

Throughout the discussion, Lindgren spoke about NASA’s goal of taking a manned-trip to Mars by 2030 and the role the students may play in that goal: “We are building bridges now to Mars…Your generation will be the one to go to Mars.”

Lindgren stressed to students the importance of making goals and taking small steps everyday to reach those goals. If the kids have an interest in being an astronaut and going to Mars, he told them: “Do something that you love. You will do far better at something you enjoy than something you think other people want you to do. Work hard in math, science, engineering and technology. These are languages of space, and you need to be fluent in them.”

The DMNS’s Lee agreed: “(The students) are the ones who will be going to Mars 20 years from now. It is the fourth graders, the eighth graders, who will be aligned to be the astronauts who will be the first men and women on Mars. I certainly hope that one of you out there today is going to be inspired to follow this path, and in the mid-2030’s, we can be watching you setting footprints on the surface of the red planet."