Friday, November 16, 2001

How is the food in space? The sixth-graders wanted to know. Are the spacesuits comfortable? What does it feel like to float in space?

Yesterday, students from John Quincy Adams Elementary School in the District found out directly from astronauts 247 miles above the Earth.

Floating is fun, they found out. We have a pretty good selection of food, astronauts told the students. The spacesuits are comfortable for a while.

During a 20-minute telephone call that had a televised video feed, about 50 students at the Northwest school quizzed the three crew members aboard the International Space Station on their life in space.

“Do you trade off on the foods you eat to share Russian and American food, and how do you eat it?” asked Jamie Argueta, 11.

“How big is the International Space Station?” Tyrell Brunson, 10, wanted to know.

“Is it scary when you first walk out in space?” wondered Brandi Patterson, 11.

U.S. Cmdr. Frank Culbertson Jr., pilot Vladimir Dezhurov and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin took turns answering the children.

Sometimes, the astronauts eat Russian food, sometimes American food and sometimes a combination of both, the children were told. The space station is about the size of a two- or three-bedroom house, though “with more space.” The astronauts said they miss their families, even though it is fun to be out there.

They told the children about “flying like a bird” at zero gravity. They described avoiding flying particles and meteorites and being careful with food flying around. And they advised the children to mind their parents and teachers and to help each other.

“You are all a team down there,” Cmdr. Culbertson said.

The special event was part of several special treats for children around the nation commemorating American Education Week and International Education Week. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Roger Crouch, NASA International Space Station senior scientist and former space shuttle crew member, dropped by the school for the event.

Mr. Paige urged students to study foreign languages, math and science to prepare them for success in school, on the job and in life.

“These subjects make projects like the space station possible,” Mr. Paige said.

After the call, the students said they were nervous but excited talking to the astronauts. And they said the experience encouraged them to learn more about the world and space.

“The [astronauts] gave interesting answers,” said Esmeraldy Arce, 11, who wants to be a lawyer and scientist. “I would love to explore and find out how it feels in space or just discover new things around the world.”

During the 20-minute call, the questions ranged from practical and specific to more philosophical.

Arturo Garcia, 11, wanted to know how being an astronaut had changed their lives.

“You get to be in a space station and see the earth from 440 kilometers above,” Cmdr. Culbertson said.

“And how does that make you feel?” one child asked Mr. Crouch.

“It takes your breath away,” he answered.

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