“Station, this is Houston, are you ready for the event?”
“Houston, this is Station, we are ready.”
With those words at precisely 10:35 a.m. on June 26, some 250 school-age students were able to communicate with three astronauts on board the International Space Station during a science and technology event co-sponsored by NASA, Philadelphia University and Destination Imagination.
During the video downlink from International Space Station, student ambassadors were selected to ask the astronauts a variety of questions, ranging from how they shower in space (answer: we don’t) to whether they are looking for new signs of life (U.S. astronaut Don Pettit: “We really don’t look for new signs of life, except when I’m looking at the crew members “).
Ka’alea Rennie, one of the student ambassadors, asked Pettit, “What do you sleep on in outer space?” The astronaut told the students “it is more of a sleep in, not a sleep on” situation, explaining that the astronauts sleep inside a sleeping bag, which provides warmth—but also keeps them from floating around in the space station while they sleep due to the lack of gravity in space.
Pettit was joined during the downlink, which took place via satellite, by fellow U.S. astronaut Joe Acaba and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers. The students sat in rapt attention during the conversation, in which the astronauts could be seen on a large screen, occasionally floating and somersaulting in the gravity-free space station. The event took place in the Gallagher Athletic, Recreation and Convocation Center on campus.
D.R. Widder, PhilaU’s executive director of innovation, kicked off the event, saying, “We are pleased to partner with Destination Imagination to educate the innovators of tomorrow.”
“Philadelphia University’s educational mission is grounded in our Nexus Learning approach: collaborative, active, project-based and connected to the real world,” Widder continued, “The NASA project and DI employ these values to teach students in an innovative and collaborative environment.”
DI, based in Cherry Hill, N.J., which offers programs for students in K-12 to teach critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills, was selected by NASA as one of six organizations in the nation to take part in the downlink, which is conducted through NASA’s Teaching From Space initiative.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a member of the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA programs, in welcoming remarks, urged the students to keep studying hard, noting that they are the future of science and space exploration.
The students participated in two project-based challenges designed by DI that required them to think outside the box to create and present solutions under tight time constraints, something that NASA astronauts do on a daily basis. “Destination Imagination is all about the holistic approach to learning and innovation,” said Chuck Cadle, CEO of DI. “To us, focus is put more on the approach rather than the final outcome.”
During the downlink, Kyair Dungee, from the Boys and Girls Club of Germantown, asked Acaba how the astronauts shower in space. Acaba startled the crowd by first saying that they do not shower at all, but then explained that since water is precious in space, the astronauts rely on moist towels, waterless shampoos and dry soaps to stay clean.
Brandon Barnes, from the same club, asked Kuipers: “How do you eat while you are in your spacesuit?” The Dutch astronaut explained that they cannot eat while wearing their spacesuits and only have access to water. Inside the space station, the astronauts can take off their suits and eat.