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Long-Distance Lesson

'We really like to look out the window and take pictures of the Earth'


INDIAN HILL - Cincinnati Country Day students had a close encounter Wednesday when they spoke to an astronaut on the International Space Station.

Twelve students in grades 3-5 were selected to ask questions of astronaut Bill McArthur while he orbited 250 miles above Earth at 17,000 mph. Their classmates listened in as a ham radio operator in Kingston, Australia, made the live connection for them.

"I was really excited and a little nervous," said Lucy Patterson, 10, a fourth-grader who asked McArthur about the coolest, hardest and scariest things he does on the space station.

The answer: "They're all the same thing - space walks. ... It's cool, but it's a little scary if you worry about losing your grip and floating away from the space station," McArthur said. "And also, physically, it's the hardest work we do."

The school had been on a two-year waiting list to talk to an astronaut on the space station, said Jan French, a science teacher who led the effort.

As complicated as it was arranging logistics, it was almost as difficult to choose which students got to ask questions. The 130 students each submitted three. French chose questions she didn't know the answers to or couldn't find out.

Questions like:

What do you do in your free time? "We really like to look out the window and take pictures of the Earth," McArthur said. "We have the ability to make telephone calls so I call my family every day. ... I like to get on the amateur radio as often as possible and talk to a lot of different people on the ground.''

Tell us something most people don't know about the space station. "The inside of the space station is about the size of a three-bedroom house."

What can I do to become a great astronaut? "That's easy. Be the best student that you can be."

The link lasted about 10 minutes.

"I can tell everyone I actually talked to an astronaut," an excited Kelsey Bardach, a 9-year-old fourth-grader, said after the assembly.

The event fit right into the fourth-grade space unit. Students also have been writing poetry about space and launched a rocket earlier Wednesday.

The school held a contest to design a mission patch that was to be made into a button for each student to wear during the assembly. Each space shuttle crew designs its own patch to represent their mission, and that patch is sewn onto their flight suits.

French encouraged students to think of the contact with McArthur as their own space mission.

"I hope that they make a personal connection to science and to being an astronaut and maybe coming to understand that they, too, can become a scientist. ... They're normal people just like everybody else."

Cincinnati Country Day became "mission control" Wednesday for a linkup with the space station. The screen shows Bill McArthur, who conducted a live question-and-answer session.