Education
7:56 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Guilford County Students Connect With International Space Station

Students in Guilford County had an out-of-this world conversation Thursday with an astronaut orbiting above Greensboro in the International Space Station.

The amateur radio connection with the International Space Station lasted around ten minutes. Sixteen out of 20 Guilford County students were able to get their questions in, before the signal faded.
The amateur radio connection with the International Space Station lasted around ten minutes. Sixteen out of 20 Guilford County students were able to get their questions in, before the signal faded.
Credit Keri Brown

NASA astronaut and Statesville, North Carolina, native Tom Marshburn talked with students at McNair Elementary, while flying more than 18,000 miles per hour aboard the International Space Station.

“W4GSO on the backup channel, how do you read?” Marshburn asked.

Hundreds of students from throughout Guilford County attended the event. Around 20 of them were selected to ask Marshburn questions about his space travels.

“Do you think there is something in outer space that can cure diseases or save lives?” said Jayla Martin, a fourth grader at Bluford STEM Academy.  

Marshburn answered Martin by saying, “There could be in an asteroid or on another planet. In the ISS, we are doing experiments and making use of the zero gravity to make very pure crystals, and we can make vaccines and medicines, some of which have already been shown to cure disease on Earth.”

Josue Carlin, a fifth grader at McNair Elementary, asked Marshburn, “What is the most incredible thing that you have seen while in space?”

“It’s hard to say because we have seen so many incredible things in space, even seeing water on the inside the International Space Station. The water forms little balls or little spheres and floats around. One time we saw an electric storm. It was about 1,000 miles long and had lightning flashes the whole time. It just took our breath away,” responded Marshburn.

A special antenna was installed on the roof at McNair Elementary to track the International Space Station.

Katie Clark, a six grader at Mendenhall Middle, says the experience was a dream come true.

“When they said 30 seconds until we make contact, I got butterflies in my stomach. It made me feel really good when he said it was a good question Katie. I worked really hard on the question and my teacher helped me and all of that had work paid off," says Clark.

The contact with the ISS lasted for about ten minutes.

The connection was made possible through a partnership between the Greensboro Amateur Radio Association and RF Micro Devices.

RF Micro Devices donated the antenna and other equipment for the event. Dan Habecker provided tech support during the connection. He says students will soon get a chance to use the radio technology in the classroom.

"The antenna and the backup station that I used are staying, so the kids can use that. If they have passes, they can listen to other space station events, make contacts with schools or talk back and forth directly,” says Habecker.

Lenny Sue French teaches science at Mendenhall Middle School.  In 2010, her class sent an experiment into space as part of an educational opportunity with NASA.

She says she hopes the experience will also inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

“When you see the really little ones and you see their eyes, while they are sitting feet behind a man who is contacting the International Space Station, you know by the time they get to me they are already going to have that fire. I’m going to benefit and all of their teachers in years later are going to benefit from experiences like this one. It’s amazing being able to have that when they are so little,” says French.

School officials say one of the reasons McNair Elementary was chosen for the educational opportunity is because of its namesake. The school is named in honor of Astronaut Ronald McNair.

McNair was one of seven crew members killed when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986.