2016-05-05 / Front Page

All Saints Students to Quiz Astronaut

By James Merolla

STEAM students will watch the space station's trajectory during their space chat on Friday. STEAM students will watch the space station's trajectory during their space chat on Friday. If you were a student and had a link to a NASA astronaut as he flew overhead, what would you ask him?

“How do you calm yourself if you feel a little claustrophobic?”

“Do diseases travel faster in zero gravity?

“What do you do for fun?”

“What is your favorite and least favorite space food?”

These and 20 other questions will be asked by pre-K through grade 8 students from the All Saints STEAM Academy’s cafeteria on Friday, May 6.

All Saints initiated Rhode Island’s first-ever space-to-school chat, which is being facilitated by NASA and leaders of the global space communications consortium, Amateur Radio, aboard the International Space Station [ISS]. Some 24 students – 17 from All Saints and seven from other schools – will try to squeeze in as many questions as possible in about 11 minutes of time as the ISS begins a noon-hour pass over near Rhode Island.

Paula Perez (Photo courtesy of Newport County Radio Club) Paula Perez (Photo courtesy of Newport County Radio Club) Students are scheduled to talk with ISS astronaut Jeff Williams, who graduated from the U.S. Naval War College in 1996 and received an honorary doctoral degree from Johnson & Wales University in 2007. He is a veteran of two previous ISS missions in 2006 and 2009-2010.

Students, teachers and the public may watch the space station’s 10-minute, 17,000 mph transit across New England on a 21-foot screen at St. Lucy’s Church.

The host school received 210 questions that were submitted from 18 schools around the state. The quality of the questions was such that the number of student winners increased from the original plan of three to seven, coming from Jamestown, Barrington, Greenville, and Providence. All Saints was chosen as one of six schools nationwide to host a chat, which are also scheduled in Europe.

The event is being coordinated through the Newport County HAM Radio Club and parent volunteer leaders Mike and Beth Cullen, who say that America has lost too much of its wonder in, and commitment to, the space program.

“Americans are too complacent about NASA now,” said Beth Cullen. “We have lost our mojo. At the end of the war, we were excited to learn about math and science and the prospects in the 1960s of going into space. It is a great loss and I think we need to recapture it.”

Mike Cullen finds it particularly auspicious that astronaut Jeff Williams – a former Newport resident – will field questions from a school that sits only a few miles from where Williams himself once studied.

“In 2006, Jeff helped build the space station,” said Cullen. “When Jeff comes back to Earth in September, he will have more days in orbit and space than anyone in history. He will have [about] 580 days in orbit.”

The students will have to be firm, loud, clear and quick in their questioning. The Cullens hope that they can fire off at least 18 questions in their allotted window while Williams is flying overhead.

The number of queries actually heard and answered will depend on deftness of delivery and how long Williams’ responses are.

Seventh-grader Marykate will ask, “Do your sleep dreams change in zero gravity?”

Sixth-grader Kaliyah will ask, “What do you now appreciate that you may have taken for granted on Earth?”

Charlee, a kindergarten student, plans to ask, “How do you cut your hair and nails?

All Saints seventh-grader Paula Perez has been given the important task of initiating contact with the astronaut, establishing clear channel (with HAM operating help from adult volunteers) and coaching the youngest children who may hesitate to forge through their questions.

In rehearsal last week, Cullen praised the students. “Great job. This is a singular opportunity. The stars may not align this way again.”

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