Astronaut tells students he’s not afraid in space

Persistence paid off March 11 when students at Eugene Field School in Park Ridge, Illinois, finally got to quiz astronaut Don Pettit, KD5MDT, about life aboard the International Space Station. One earlier effort failed when the earth station and NA1SS ended up on different 2-meter frequencies due to a communication breakdown.

The contact, arranged by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) program, also was postponed several times because of schedule conflicts. When everything came together, however, Pettit was able to answer 19 questions put to him by the students, who were obviously well-prepared for the occasion.

Among other topics, Pettit described his interest and research into thin films of water, which, he said, look much like soap bubbles in space. He also described how a tin of food that would normally float off the table while he was eating would stay in place if he applied a small drop of water to the tin’s bottom. Pettit explained that the surface tension of the water will keep the container from floating off.

“Thunderstorms look like giant flashbulbs going off in the clouds,” Pettit told one student who asked what they looked like from the vantage point of the ISS. To see meteor showers, he explained to another student, the astronauts have to look down toward Earth–rather than up–to see the meteors burn up in the atmosphere. The crew also has been able to see the change of seasons on Earth.

Pettit–who has been handling the bulk of the ARISS school contacts for the Expedition 6 crew–also told another youngster that he is not afraid of being in space. “So far I haven’t been afraid while I’ve been in space, but I do get afraid when I see scary movies at the movie theater,” Pettit said. His reply drew a round of laughter in the classroom back on Earth.

Zero gravity, which Pettit has said he’ll miss when he returns to Earth, is a favorite question topic. “Being in zero gravity is like flying in your dreams,” Pettit said in describing the experience. Brushing your teeth in space involves one twist. “You’ve got to swallow your toothpaste, because there’s no place to spit it out,” he explained.

Audio of the contact was distributed to five other elementary schools and two middle schools in the suburban Chicago school district. Several local TV and radio affiliates showed up to record the contact and interview the students afterwards.

The contact was handled via W6SRJ at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. Two-way audio was handled via a WorldCom teleconferencing circuit. Tim Bosma, W6ISS, moderated the QSO. ARISS is an international project with participation by ARRL, NASA and AMSAT. For more information, visit the ARISS Web site