September 19, 2008 · Updated 2:50 PM
SUQUAMISH — Students in Suquamish received a special visit from a guest from outer space.
And they learned it takes great care to go to the bathroom in zero gravity, and that astronauts use air flow to do in space what earthlings use gravity for on land.
The 21st annual meeting of the Association of Space Explorers convened in Seattle this week. Part of the Association’s “self-imposed” charter is to create an awareness of what’s going on with space programs and to motivate “youngsters” in the math, science and technical fields.
To follow through with the charter, on Wednesday the approximate 60 space explorers individually traveled across Washington to various schools, spending an afternoon entertaining students with a multitude of stories and question and answer sessions.
It’s estimated the explorers reached nearly 60,000 Washington students.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astronaut Robert C. Springer, who has flown into the great atmospheric abyss twice, logging more than 237 hours in space, arrived in Suquamish and enthralled Suquamish Early Learning Center, Suquamish Elementary and tribal education high school students with facts about the great unknown.
“As a group and personally it’s one of the more important things we can do to motivate this generation of youngsters,” Springer explained. “We’re letting the kids out there know there’s a whole career field and encouraging them to take hard courses that will lead to a technical degree and a job.”
Aside from the common curiosity questions — How do you go to the bathroom in space? What do stars look like up there? How’s the food? — Springer fielded some very thoughtful questions, especially as it was elementary students who posed the introspective inquiries.
One such question that resonated with Springer was one of inner feelings: “What were your emotions? How did you feel personally when you launched, and were you afraid?”
“With young kids you get some surprisingly thoughtful questions,” said Springer who spent eight years preparing for his voyages as a mission specialist on STS-29 in 1989 and STS-38 in 1990. “I tell people the experience of launching is very emotional on several fronts. There’s a tremendous amount of anticipation but at the same time a degree of anxiety. Through it all I felt I was accomplishing something significant on this road that leads to the future in terms of mankind’s accomplishments. I had a hand in it.”
Traveling at 17,500 miles per hour it took eight and a half minutes to get to orbit and Springer circled the earth every 90 minutes.
The view from up above, he assured, is breathtakingly gorgeous.
“The view out the window is so strikingly beautiful,” Springer said. “You do really appreciate what a fragile planet it is and why we need to all work together to protect the environment.”
As Springer’s and the space explorers’ aim is to motivate students about the technical fields and to get them thinking big ideas about prospective careers and opportunities, Wednesday proved to be mission completed for one high schooler.
“It was awesome. A person from NASA came and we don’t really get those opportunities,” said Jonathan Morsette, 19. “I was like ‘Whoa’ the whole time. He started at a young age to do so, so it was really encouraging.”