Livermore students speak live with astronauts in space

Students at Livermore's Junction Avenue School had an opportunity that was "out of this world." They got the chance on Wednesday to talk with three astronauts via an in-flight education downlink from the International Space Station (ISS).

The entire school's student body -- from kindergarten to 8th grade -- assembled in two locations to watch the videoconference. "What a wonderful event we have today -- to speak directly to astronauts in space," said Junction Avenue School Principal Jamal Fields as he greeted students, parents and visitors enthusiastically at the start of the event.

"We are so lucky to have a national lab (like LLNL) in our backyard," Fields said about the Lab's collaboration with the Livermore school district to help make the event happen.

A group of students from a range of grade levels prepared 20 questions to ask the three flight engineers Don Pettit, Joseph Acaba and Andre Kuipers of Expedition 31, who appeared on screen from their gravity-free environment aboard the ISS.

The questions, some of which were asked in Spanish and directed to Spanish-speaking astronaut Acaba, ranged from "How are you growing plants on the ISS?" and "What would you do if you met another species in outer space?" to "How do you recover back home after being in space so long?"

Former astronaut Tammy Jernigan, deputy principal associate director for Weapons and Complex Integration (WCI), served as the emcee for the event. A veteran of five space shuttle missions, Jernigan talked about her experiences in space. She also spoke about her background and education, her career and the importance of studying hard and staying in school.

"Learn to be a good citizen and work well with others," she told the students. "Help others. If you work hard, opportunities will be there for you," she said about educational opportunities.

Before the live videoconference with the astronauts, Nick Williams and Don Bartel, presenters of the Lab's Fun with Science show, dazzled the young audience with demonstrations and experiments in chemistry, electricity and air pressure.

"Science is explainable magic," Williams told the students.

Also attending the event were Livermore Mayor John Marchand; Superintendent Kelly Bowers, Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD): from Congressman John Garamendi's office, District Director Karen Tedford and Deputy District Director Brian Hooker; and from Congressman Pete Stark's office, District Director Jo Cazenave.

The in-flight education downlink is part of NASA's Teaching From Space education program. After submitting an application to the NASA program, Junction Avenue School was one of the few selected to participate in the downlink.

"There was a real connection with the astronauts and the students," Richard Farnsworth, the Lab's Science Education Program manager observed. "And, it was an exciting culmination to the school year."