Published on September 29th, 2012 | by NSB Observer0
Burns Sci Tech Students Speak with Astronaut, Sunita Williams
By: Donna Martin
A few weeks ago, I drove over to Burns Sci Tech Charter School, in Oak Hill, to say hello to my friend Dana Greatrex who I hadn’t seen in 10 years. When the office finally chased her down, she appeared out of nowhere, gave me a quick hug and said, “Follow me.” She was her usual “whirling dervish” running, stopping here and there, and talking uninterrupted the whole time. We ended up at the school cafeteria where she tended to the simplest, but most necessary task of taping down big letters on a poster that read ARISS, so they could be laminated. Typical of her, I have learned. She leaves no detail undone.
“What is ARISS?” I asked.
“What is ARISS?” she repeated. “Just wait and I’ll tell you.” Finishing her project, Dana commanded again, “follow me” (and Dana Greatrex really moves fast).
I received a two minute tour of the entire complex as she explained the program to me, and how, with the cooperation of numerous organizations and the Amateur Radio Club, the students would be able to communicate live with an astronaut on the Space Station. The event was planned for Thursday, the 13th of September at about 2:00 PM, when they would be able to make contact.
As I drove back home, I realized I smelled a story. I had been a feature writer for a few newspapers over the years, including the previous printed version of the Observer. I contacted Tiffany Evers from nsbobserver.com and she gave me the ok. We agreed to try and meet in the parking lot at the school five minutes ahead of the event, so we could introduce ourselves to each other.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at the school. I certainly didn’t anticipate the crowd that was there. The parking lots were all full wherever I looked. And in view, as far as the eye could see, was all this activity – with students and teachers and people from the community everywhere. Most of the children were seated around the outside of the school in various locations, staring at overhead monitors, waiting in anticipation. A class of younger students was decked out in homemade space helmets, and adults were running in all directions.
I drove out to the main street again where I remembered seeing a sign, “ARISS parking.” “This is a much bigger deal than I imagined,” I thought. “How in the world am I going to find Tiffany and how would I find the main event?”
I followed a winding path into the valley below the school, practicing my NASCAR driving skills, not wanting to miss anything, and ran up the hill. I approached the first few adults who might have been reporters asking them for directions to the main event. Shortly I was directed to the school cafeteria and scurried in with notebook in hand.
Principal, Dr. Jan McGee was addressing the audience of technicians sitting behind her, photographers around the outer aisles, parents of the children chosen to address the astronaut, and others from the community who were seated in the room.
I was frantically scribbling the information as it was presented – the procedure of how students were selected, acknowledgement of dignitaries, and technical information on how communication was set up, until finally I realized the futility of it all. I just stopped writing and took in the emotion of the whole experience. The room was charged with energy, and I was part of it.
When the announcements were finished, a class of younger students came through the door in single file, and paraded down the middle aisle with their mock helmets, followed by the nine students chosen for the project. My eye caught the youngest child, dressed up as an astronaut. I was struck with emotion noting his absolute unassuming appearance. Just as if he was simply doing his job, reporting for work. “If I was in his place,” I thought,” I would wet my pants.” The rest of the students all wearing matching shirts, looked as at ease as the little astronaut.
Soon we were tracking the path of the space station on a large screen in front, with anticipation. As the red symbol on the screen neared the state of Florida, all of a sudden communication was established. I was as thrilled and in awe as I was when I witnessed the first space flight in history. I had a lump in my throat.
I did get apprehensive then. I thought, “They will never pull this off. Surely someone will forget his or her questions, and stammer.”
That was not the case. I held my breath as the first student, the little astronaut, approached the microphone held by Science teacher, Josh Daniels. With perfect diction, and in a clear strong voice, he addressed the astronaut with his question, ending it with “over” using the radio operator’s lingo. I just breathed a sigh of relief and tears welled up in my eyes. “Could there possibly be a dry eye in the room?” I thought. Then in every case, each student, in order, stepped up to the microphone, and in clear voices and no hesitation, posed their question to Astronaut, Sunita Williams, flight engineer on the International Space Station. And she responded, answering directly to that student.
When communication was lost after the space station moved away, there was a spontaneous round of applause for a perfect performance without a hitch.
Again, the principal addressed the audience acknowledging and thanking everyone involved. Then it was over. But it will never be for those present, and it might be a hard act to follow.
I ran to my car to avoid the avalanche of the crowd. When I stopped at the end of the road ready to turn and head home, I gave a big whoopee shout just for myself to hear and said out loud, the common phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
And so it was, through the eyes of a rusty reporter with a nose for news, from her laptop with not so nimble fingers.
Watch the video below to see what questions each selected students asked Astronaut, Sunita Williams.