Shuttle astronauts stimulate students


POSTED: Saturday, March 28, 2009

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery inspired more than a dozen Hawaii students yesterday to study science, including some who said they now want to work in space themselves.

The seven-person Discovery crew answered questions from 20 public- and private-school students via video link from 200 miles above Earth on their way back from the International Space Station.

The students took time away from their spring break vacations to talk with the astronauts from an auditorium at Punahou's middle school. Punahou is President Barack Obama's alma mater. Students could see a video image of the astronauts on a giant screen, but the astronauts could only hear audio of the students.

Crista Nishimoto, an eighth-grader at Stevenson Middle School, asked Sandra Magnus, who is coming home after a 41/2-month stint on the space station, how she exercised in orbit.

Crista said she was surprised by Magnus' answer that astronauts sometimes strap themselves to bicycles for workouts. Magnus also told Crista that astronauts exercise for two hours a day.

“;I thought it was really cool, because I would have never thought that's how they exercise, by bike,”; Crista said.

The 13-year-old from Honolulu joined the video link after her teachers selected her question from those submitted by her class. Crista said science has grabbed her attention before, but talking to astronauts in space raised her interest to a new level.

“;Astronaut seems really cool,”; Crista said when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, “;or something in science sounds good.”;

Reyn Fernandez, a Punahou senior, said it was interesting to see and hear the nine-second time delay in communications between the auditorium and the space shuttle.

Punahou hosted the event because one of the astronauts on board, Joseph Acaba, spoke at the school in 2006, said Art Kimura, an education specialist with the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium.

Another reason was that Punahou has hosted a “;Lacy Veach Day of Discovery”; in honor of Veach, a NASA astronaut and 1962 Punahou graduate who died of cancer in 1995.

Kimura, who helped coordinate the communications link, said it did not hurt that Obama also graduated from Punahou.

“;I'm sure that made a major impact on their decision. They've talked about it several times,”; Kimura said.