Fort Worth

Fort Worth students talk to astronaut aboard space station

Cowtown Amateur Radio Club member Keith Pugh explains to students how they are able to talk to the International Space Station.
Cowtown Amateur Radio Club member Keith Pugh explains to students how they are able to talk to the International Space Station. Special to the Star-Telegram

Fourth-grader George Gulde had a rare chat early Thursday with an astronaut on board the International Space Station from the comfort of his school auditorium.

“I was nervous and I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said George, who attends Daggett Montessori School. “I just couldn’t believe I was doing it.”

He and other students participated in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, which is run by volunteers from national amateur radio organizations all over the world, including Russia, Japan, Europe, Canada and the U.S.

I was nervous and I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I just couldn’t believe I was doing it.

George Gulde, fourth-grader, Daggett Montessori

About 20 Daggett students drew up questions for NASA astronaut Kjell N. Lindgren, who is also a physician. George, for example, wanted to know whether astronauts grow lettuce aboard the space station.

Grace Jordan, a seventh-grader, wondered about the effects of microgravity on food digestion. Others were curious about sleep-wake cycles, allergies, smells in space, radiation and debris in space.

The day before, Lindgren and another NASA astronaut conducted a spacewalk. He is expected to do another walk Nov. 6.

The students also wanted to know whether Lindgren, who was based at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, missed his family on Earth and what had inspired him to become an astronaut.

Ham radio operator Randy Thomson made the transmission after a few minutes of loud static noise. The broadcast occurred in front of more than 300 students at Daggett Montessori.

“N-A-1-S-S, this is K-5-C-O-W, K-5-C-O-W, over,” Thomson said as the space station travels 17,500 mph.

17,500 mph, speed of the International Space Station.

Suddenly, Lindgren’s crisp voice boomed through the auditorium at Daggett. “I’m very excited to be talking with Daggett Montessori students today. … I’m ready for the first question. Over.”

Aven Istam, a fifth-grader, had the first stab at a question. “How did you feel when you first looked back at Earth? Over.”

‘It’s a very special experience, the first time you get to look back at the Earth in space. It’s something I dreamed about for a very long time,” Lindgren said. “It’s so amazing to see the bright vibrant blue and white colors of Earth. … Over.”

Students learned, for example, that Lindgren uses an Internet phone to talk to his family every day. They also learned that he had wanted to be an astronaut since he was young.

“I had amazing teachers that inspired me to pursue my dream,” Lindgren told students. “They made me feel that if I studied hard enough, I would be able to achieve this goal.”

I had amazing teachers that inspired me to pursue my dream.

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren

More than 300 Daggett students in grades four through eight sat in the auditorium to listen to the broadcast at about 9 a.m. Thursday. Younger students listened from their classrooms.

Sandy Yeandle, a sixth-grade science teacher at Daggett, said students spent many weeks preparing for the orbital conversation. Students watched videos, listened to podcasts and read magazine and other articles about astronauts and space, Yeandle said. The goal is to nurture more student interest in space and exploration, she said.

“They did get very inspired,” Yeandle said.

And yes, Lindgren said he does grow lettuce, in his favorite space experiment.

Yamil Berard: 817-390-7705, @yberard

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