Greetings from space: Conyers Middle students receive an out-of-this-world talk from astronauts

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

CONYERS -- Usually when middle school students think about ISS, they are dreading sitting alone doing school work during In School Suspension. But this week, several Conyers Middle School students couldn't stop thinking about ISS -- the International Space Station.

On Wednesday, 20 students from CMS got a rare opportunity -- they were able to talk to astronauts aboard the space station.

"It's cool getting to talk to someone in space," said rising seventh-grader Savannah Wegemer. "(Astronauts) go into space and build shuttles, and I think that is really cool."

Through their partnership with NASA, CMS was selected as one of six schools across the nation to participate in a live downlink in which three crew members were televised on a screen at the CMS auditorium through Teaching from Space, a NASA education office.

"They really worked hard to get to this point," said Vanessa Carter, a sixth-grade Earth science teacher at CMS. "I hope to continue to do these things for our school and help our students grow and be the best they can be."

School officials and students worked hard throughout the past school year to create a proposal and hold events to prove the school was worthy of the honor. Events included a girls in engineering day and writing contest, a career day with the NASA Digital Learning Network, a "Project Runway" spacesuit fashion show and a NASA design challenge for plant growth in space.

"You're always finding out something new every day," said rising seventh-grader Braxton Payne about what interests him about space.

The school selected students who won a spacesuit fashion show, which involved an essay about how their suit would help them survive on their planet, to ask the astronauts questions on Wednesday.

For about 20 minutes, students asked the astronauts -- Doug Wheelock, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker aboard Expedition 24 -- questions about their experience in space, how it's different from life on Earth and about the International Space Station. Looking on in the CMS auditorium were about 250 audience members, including younger students, parents and community members.

"The school always appreciates the support of the community, businesses and parents," said school Principal Maryland Nesmith. "It means a lot to the school for students to see the support for them to be successful. Hopefully, it will give them something positive to remember about middle school."

The astronauts explained a variety of informative facts including: how the ISS performs scientific and medical research while in space; spacesuits weigh 300 pounds on Earth; computers and a bathroom are on board the station; they add water to dehydrated food and drinks; outside temperatures range from minus-200 degrees to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but it remains 72 degrees inside the space station; and astronauts can communicate with family through e-mail and telephone calls.

Students were also given some advice on becoming astronauts -- study math, science and technology and find a job you like and excel in if you want to experience space one day.

"This has been a phenomenal opportunity for these students," said Sam King, superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools. "They should always dream. ... These dreams can become reality."

The school's partnership with NASA already has peaked the interest in science, space and astronomy in some students.

"There are all sorts of mysteries out there that I want to find," said Jacob Sanmartin, a rising ninth-grader at Rockdale County High School.

Sixth-grade Earth science teacher Chris Pollett said interacting with NASA not only accompanies well the Earth science curriculum, it also gives students the opportunity to study science and encourages them to achieve the highest levels they can, no matter where they end up later in life.

"I think there has always been a fascination with space travel and astronauts since we landed on the moon," he said. "But if you don't dream about stuff, you never accomplish much."