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Students Link Up To Space Station

Bob Jones class asks astronaut about sleep, diet

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By REBECCA SALLEE
The Huntsville Times

A recent science class was out of this world for students at Bob Jones High School.

Students in the Air Force Junior ROTC aerospace science class at Bob Jones conducted a 10-minute audio interview May 1 with American astronaut Col. Jeff Williams live from the International Space Station.

The astronaut's nephew, Bob Jones senior Adam Williams, helped make the connection.

Retired Lt. Col. Randy S. Herd, the senior aerospace science teacher at Bob Jones, said the interview was arranged through a group known as ARISS, an acronym for Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, which set up an audio link via ham radio and sent the feed via phone to the school.

Williams, the flight engineer and science officer on the space station, launched for his six-month mission March 29 aboard a Russian Soyuz space craft, which docked with the space station two days later.

Herd said he asked his students in advance to write down three questions they would most like to ask the astronaut.

"We took all the questions, weeded out the duplicates, and racked and stacked the more interesting questions," the teacher said.

 "They were really interested in what type of food they eat in space. They were interested in what type of experiments Col. Williams will be doing."

The students asked the astronaut about his extravehicular activities and about his difficulties communicating with his Russian colleagues and learning their language, Herd said.

"They were really fascinated with how they sleep. They sort of sleep standing up, but there really is no 'up,' " Herd said.

The students were also intrigued by the technology that made the interview possible, he said, adding that the quality of the audio was similar to a local telephone call.

"I thought it was very interesting how something with amateur radio could accomplish that," said Colin Campbell, a 17-year-old senior. "It took a lot of people coming together."

Colin, who plans to study engineering at Auburn University and later become a military pilot, said he and his fellow students also asked Williams about the path that led him into the astronaut corps.

"I was a little surprised at how the amateur radio operators were able to get a hold of the space station so easily," said David Miles, also a 17-year-old senior, who plans to study physics and history at the University of Alabama before joining the U.S. Marine Corps.

Herd said his program involves about 100 cadets each year, most of whom come from military families and all of whom enjoy the AFJ-ROTC curriculum.

"It's fantastic," he said. "Their interest level is really very high, so when you do something like this, they get excited about it. They tend to be like sponges. They just want more and more."