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Jan. 27, 2009
More than 400 area school children, college students and local residents gasped and then cheered from their seats in the Performing Arts Center on the Northwest campus Tuesday, Jan. 27, as a live video image of two astronauts aboard the International Space Station broke across a giant projection screen.
The students were there to witness a satellite downlink from the station made possible through the NASA Explorer School project, which promotes learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in fourth through ninth grade. It was the first such event to be held in Missouri since the program began eight years ago.
Students attended the event from the Northeast Nodaway school district, Horace Mann Laboratory School and Northwest's Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing. About a dozen students seated on the auditorium stage spent 20 minutes asking prepared questions and receiving answers from Expedition 18 astronauts Mike Fincke and Sandy Magnus.
More cheers and applause erupted as Magnus spoke into a hand-held microphone, saying, "We have you loud and clear, and hello to everyone in Missouri.
Both astronauts were obviously in a zero-gravity environment, and Magnus spoke with her long, brown hair floating weightlessly above her face. Fincke drew laughter from the audience by turning somersaults while his colleague talked, then squeezing a small, bubble-like sphere of water from a tube and swallowing as it floated through the cabin.In answering various questions, Fincke and Magnus noted that the International Space Station maintains an altitude of approximately 350 kilometers (190 nautical miles) above Earth while traveling through space at more than 17,000 miles per hour.
"A race car goes about 200 miles an hour, so you can see that we're faster than anything in NASCAR or Formula I," Fincke quipped.
The astronauts noted that, at the time of the event, the space station was speeding over Africa.
Students asked a wide range of questions during the downlink, inquiring about everything from the sort of experiments the astronauts are conducting to how they deal with being away from their families for up to six months.
Magnus said one experiment deals with the long-term effects of space and weightlessness on the human body. Responding to the family question, Fincke said he missed his wife and young children very much but speaks to them almost every day via computer technology known as Voice Over Internet Protocol.
One student asked if the astronauts thought tax-funded space travel should continue in a time of economic hardship and growing deficits. Magnus answered that NASA's budget of between $16 and $17 billion dollars represents less than one cent of each federal tax dollar collected, and that resulting technological advances justify continued funding.
"Most people spend more than that (a penny out of every dollar) on junk food," she said. "When you think of the scientific benefits and new technology, it's definitely worth it."
Fincke was asked how he thought space travel would develop by the end of the 21 st century, and responded that he hoped human beings would be able to "leave the cradle" of Earth by establishing permanent colonies on the Moon, Mars and beyond.
"We have the whole universe," he said, "and we need to explore it."
Audio and video of Tuesday's event was recorded by the University's Bearcat Productions and will be posted on the Northwest Web site as soon as editing and production are complete.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468