Dr Norm Thagard Addresses Students

Former NASA astronaut and Mir veteran Dr Norm Thagard, ex-K4YSY, did yeoman’s duty answering youngsters’ questions about life in space after an effort to contact the International Space Station via ham radio failed March 22. Thagard spent about 15 minutes during the grand opening celebration for the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee answering youngsters’ questions originally intended for ISS Expedition 6 crew commander Ken Bowersox, KD5JBP.

Bowersox had priority duties aboard the ISS that prevented him from being on hand at NA1SS for the scheduled Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) QSO.

“For astronauts in low-Earth orbit, the main entertainment is going to be just looking out the window,” Thagard said in response to one of the questions posed by teams of 12 middle school students. Thagard serves as board chairman for the center and is associate dean of College Relations at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering. The 32,000-square-foot Challenger Learning Center in downtown Tallahassee is a kindergarten through grade 12 outreach facility of Florida A&M.

Thagard also explained that surface tension of liquids helps to keep foods in place while eating. “You have to be real careful,” Thagard added, recalling a time he accidentally released some hot chocolate into zero gravity.

Because there’s no atmosphere in space, the weather is “always sunny if it’s day,” he said. A “day” in space consists of 50 minutes of light and 40 minutes of darkness, as the spacecraft orbits Earth approximately every 90 minutes. “It certainly does foul up your circadian rhythm, your normal sleep-wake cycle,” Thagard said. Astronauts can see weather on Earth below, however, such as clouds and storms, he added.

Thagard said he knows Bowersox and Expedition 6 crew member Nikolai Budarin, RV3FB, with whom he trained for his Mir stint in 1994 and spent five days aboard the Russian space station during a crew transition in 1995. He told another pair of student questioners that “folks get along pretty well in space.”

The Challenger Center, named to honor the shuttle Challenger crew lost in 1986, uses an aerospace theme to foster interest in math, science and technology and motivate students to pursue careers in those fields.

ARISS International Chairman Frank Bauer, KA3HDO, said he appreciated the fact that Thagard stepped up to the plate to handle the questions. The College of Engineering’s club station KF4LOA also was on the air for the grand opening celebration.