SUGAR HILL — Mention that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday travel at 17,500 miles per hour and students’ eyes widen.
Add that students could ask live questions about being an astronaut on the ISS and their jaws drop.
That was the case for White Oak Elementary fifth-grader Joseph Gorman, who asked astronaut Reid Wiseman what he would do if the tether that connected him to the ISS snapped. While static interfered with Wiseman’s end of the connection broadcast in the Lanier High theater, it didn’t dampen Gorman’s spirits.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” Gorman said as he described the experience. “I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to make it, but I was surprised when I got the letter.”
Gorman was one of a select few students in the Lanier cluster who were chosen to ask a question.
The contact was made through a radio connection by the Gwinnett Amateur Radio Society and NASA’s Teaching From Space office that coordinated the event on Tuesday morning at Lanier High along with teacher Janelle Wilson. Wilson applied on behalf of the entire Lanier cluster, and the audience to witness the event was more than 100 people.
Even though the connection lasted just 10 minutes, Wilson was overjoyed.
“It was really amazing and dream-like for this to happen,” she said. “I’ve been working on this for a long time. Dream come true, really.”
Along with Gwinnett Amateur Radio Society representative Hal Collier, Technical Mentor John Kludt coordinated the event with NASA and Wilson.
Kludt works with NASA and schools in the Southeast region, and said this kind of event happens just 20 to 30 times each year across the country.
“If just one of these kids decides science is cool, or wants to be an engineer or scientist, then it was a success,” Kludt said.
The goal for Wilson was to introduce students to a real-world example of a STEM career, or to pique the students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
“The physics of the space station orbiting right above us and how much time it takes for it to pass over us, and how fast the space station is really going,” she said. “How the contact with radio works, as well as maybe thinking about a science career or engineering career to get involved in things with space exploration or just science in general.”
Collier and several members of the GARS provided equipment, including sophisticated antenna on the roof of the school, to make the connection.
“I think it went pretty well, we had a good signal from them,” Collier said. “It cut off a little short. We had a few questions we didn’t get to get asked, but that’s typical with any space station contact. You’ve only got less than 10 minutes from when they’re in range and out of range.”
Teachers from The Buice School, Sugar Hill Elementary, Sycamore Elementary, White Oak Elementary and Lanier High narrowed student question submissions to 10 from each school. But only a select few of those were chosen for the live event.
The submitted questions covered a variety of topics including living and working in space, experiments conducted on the space station, return to Earth and astronaut preparation.
Wilson also worked with NASA’s Teaching From Space office during the summer of 2013, when she participated in the MicroGravity eXperience by conducting a weightless flight experiment on behalf of Lanier Middle students.
Her next goal is to setup a video downlink with astronauts that’s shown to a countywide audience.