Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield blasts into space again today, this time as commander of a mission to the International Space Station.
However, before he can play among the stars or see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars in his third trip into space, Hadfield will be talking to students from Stonepark Intermediate School in Charlottetown.
Grade 9 students there have been working with NASA to allow students to link directly with astronauts at the International Space Station by radio.
In mid-January, 15 Stonepark students will get to ask Hadfield carefully crafted questions during a 10-minute window. The students will communicate using amateur radio, with all of the equipment arriving at the school about a week before the communication.
The communication is scheduled to occur between Jan. 14-20, but the actual date and time have yet to be confirmed.
“They asked if our school would be interested, because never has a school on Prince Edward Island done something like this,” said Stonepark teacher-librarian Sue Geddes, who is overseeing the project.
“You don’t realize how big it actually is, but as it’s progressed, it’s just gotten bigger and bigger.”
Support has grown as the project has progressed, she said.
“All the teachers are getting really excited for it. Even some who were a little reluctant to get involved, they’re the ones cheering the loudest.”
Anticipation is also growing among students and parents alike.
“The second I got home and told my mom what I’d be doing, she had all my relatives on the phone, it was on Facebook and Twitter, and she was texting her friends,” said Nick McRoberts, one of the Grade 9 students who will ask Hadfield a question.
He said it made him realize how fortunate he is to have such an opportunity.
In the build-up to the big day, students have been learning about space. They were also visited by Elizabeth Osgood, an engineering professor at UPEI who worked on NASA’s Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST).
“She explained the process of how they built the space station, all the different parts, and how they would put the parts on the space station,” McRoberts said.
There have been learning experiences throughout the project, said Scott MacIntosh, another Grade 9 student.
“The second I got home and told my mom what I’d be doing, she had all my relatives on the phone, it was on Facebook and Twitter, and she was texting her friends,” - Nick McRoberts
“We’ve learned about how the whole thing works up there, some of the things they do and their lives in general.”
MacIntosh also designed a logo to mark the occasion, along with t-shirts as the winner of a contest.
The project has taught the students a lot about being an astronaut, said Isaac Kirkland, another Grade 9 student.
“When you’re a kid, you’re just thinking ‘Oh, I get to go up in a rocket and play in zero gravity,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
“There’s a lot of work that goes into what they do, a lot of mental and physical strain,” McRoberts added.
Kirkland plans to ask Hadfield about the biggest concerns and challenges of being an astronaut.
“I know there can be some people who can get stressed from having to work all day long and having to exercise that much.”
McRoberts plans to ask Hadfield about what it takes to get to where he is.
“I’d like to ask him what kind of physical traits, emotional traits and qualifications you need to actually become the commander of the space station, much less be on the space station.”
MacIntosh will have fun in mind when he asks his question.
“I’m asking about what are some things that are really fun to do in zero gravity, but are boring on Earth,” he said.
To mark the occurrence, the school’s jazz band is working on a couple of numbers, including Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon, as is Ripped Paper, a band made up of Grade 8 students at Stonepark.
The communication will take place in the Stonepark gymnasium, and all Grade 9 students will be present.
Teacher Giddes says the link to the space station is a great opportunity for the students and the school.
“We’re so pleased that we were chosen to be a part of this. The students will never forget it, and I know I’ll never forget it.”