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Astronauts answer CHCCS student questions from International Space Station

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A NASA event took place at Morehead Planetarium on Sept. 13, 2023.
Photo Courtesy of CHCCS Communications.

At 11:05 a.m. on Sept. 13, students at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools made contact with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. 

Elementary, middle and high school students submitted prerecorded video questions that were answered by two astronauts: NASA's Frank Rubio and Andreas Mogensen, with the European Space Agency.

This event, called an In-flight Education Downlink, aims to inspire students across the United States to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics career paths. Last November, CHCCS submitted its first proposal to participate in the downlink event and was notified of its acceptance in the spring.

Once accepted, each school chose one student to prerecord and submit a question for the astronauts. Although the questions were prerecorded, the answer portion was live, transmitted by a set of satellites sending data to antennas on the ground. The station sits 250 miles above Earth and travels at approximately 17,500 mph.

There were 19 questions total, ranging from, “What does it feel like at liftoff?” to “How does the space station get more oxygen if the astronauts are breathing it?”

Since the NASA downlink was only available for 20 minutes, the astronauts sent written responses for the three questions they did not have time for.

“We want this to be more than just some exciting and cool experience,” said Carrie Olsen, a project manager for Next Gen STEM, which runs the downlinks. “We want it to catalyze real learning and be a more of an educational outcome for the students.”

Next Gen STEM is a project of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. Its mission is to spark interest in STEM for K-12 students by connecting them to NASA’s endeavors in exploration and discovery.

"The astronauts called the students by name and addressed each of their questions,” Kathi Breweur, the director of career and technical education at CHCCS, said in an email. “These students will always remember this experience.”

While all CHCCS schools had the option to livestream the Q&A session in their classrooms, Chapel Hill High School hosted a downlink watch party in their auditorium that included speeches and live science demonstrations by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The school also hosted a STEM career fair, during which over 500 students had the opportunity to learn more about various STEM opportunities and careers.

Sam Nguyen, a gifted education specialist at Carrboro Elementary School, said he attended the event along with the school's entire fifth grade.

“There are certain things we have to teach them, but part of my job is teaching them to think,” Nguyen said. “So it was really cool to be able to tickle their brains in that way and get them wondering.”

According to NASA, the main goal of this event with CHCCS was to further educate underrepresented and nontraditional students and include them in STEM fields.

"When we're intentional about providing opportunity and providing experiences for kids to see themselves in this field, I think that's so powerful,” Nguyen said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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