Students shuttle questions to civilian in space
Amateur radio technology allows students to communicate from Earth to space
Susan Whitney/The Gazette
"How does your perception of time change – if any – while you are in space? Over."
That was the question Marika Nell, 16, an 11th-grader at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, asked Richard Garriott, a civilian from Austin, Texas, traveling in outer space with Space Adventures Ltd. He is expected to return today.
Garriott's response? Every 90 minutes he orbits the Earth, and every 45 minutes there's a sunrise or a sunset.
"Your perception of time changes; it stretches out, you might say," he said.
Marika was one of two students from the school selected to ask Garriott questions Oct. 16 through live amateur radio downlinks from the Howard B. Owens Science Center's Challenger Center in Lanham. Also selected were Eleanor Roosevelt High junior Mark Montgomery, 15, Ali Dar, 13, an eighth-grader at Greenbelt Middle School, and Nicholas Ey, 13, an eighth-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville.
The local students joined 13 other students at challenger centers in South Carolina, Florida and Indiana in asking Garriott questions via live amateur radio downlinks during his flight.
Garriott was at the International Space Station at the time of the communication, said Mark Steiner, a branch manager at NASA for systems engineering services and advanced concepts. Garriott is conducting two science experiments at the space station designed by students from the United Kingdom, in partnership with the British National Space Center, according to the Space Adventures Ltd. Web site.
The Prince George's County students were selected because of their high achievements in the 2007-2008 school year's regional science fair, said Scott Hangey, a program administrator at the Howard B. Owens Science Center. Students participated in the fair with other Prince George's County students and students from Calvert and St. Mary's counties.
Students at challenger centers in Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri had the opportunity to ask Garriott questions Oct. 17.
Garriott is aboard Expedition 18, which launched from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station on Oct. 12, according to NASA's Web site. He will return with Expedition 17 crew members.
He is the son of astronaut Owen Garriott and is the sixth private civilian client and the first second-generation astronaut of Space Adventures, a private space exploration company in Northern Virginia that provides opportunities for private spaceflight and space tourism, according to its Web site.
Steiner coordinated the audio at the Lanham challenger center through amateur radio on the International Space Station, which enabled students to speak with Garriott.
Each student sent in multiple questions, and Garriott picked one question from each student to answer. The contact lasted for 10 minutes.
"I wish there was more than 10 minutes to talk, but it was a good 10 minutes," Mark said.
Ali asked the first question: "Did you have any fears before going in space? Over."
"There was a little pressure to ask the first question," he said. "It's exciting."
Ali's sister, Ayesha Dar, 20, came with her brother and saw the experience as a great opportunity.
"It's a great opportunity, maybe inspiring, for kids to talk to an astronaut," she said.
Nicholas was excited to speak with Garriott.
"It was very exciting talking to an astronaut in space that's hundreds of miles away through amateur radio and a little antenna that goes to space; it's crazy," he said.
Nicholas asked Garriott, "Does it take a while to get accustomed to weightlessness?" Garriott's response was that it took only three or four days to adapt to space.
"It's something I've always been wondering," Nicholas said. "I wasn't surprised that it didn't take that long."
E-mail Liz Skalski at email@example.com.