Feature

Phoenix School Celebrates Explorer Status With Astronaut Visit
02.02.06
Astronaut John Phillips stands on stage as he describes the projected image of nine astronauts on the space station on the screen next to him
Who wears a 300-pound suit to work? What job is worth waiting 20 years to get?

Students at Westwind Intermediate School in Phoenix, Ariz., learned answers to these and other questions directly from NASA astronaut John Phillips.

Image to right: Veteran astronaut John Phillips narrated a video of his exploits in space to a group of Westwind Intermediate School students in Phoenix January 26. Credit: Michelle Davis

Phillips visited Westwind Jan. 26 to help students, teachers and parents celebrate Westwind’s selection as a NASA Explorer School. Explorer Schools form a three-year partnership with NASA to help address science, technology, engineering and mathematics needs and encourage students to pursue careers in those fields.

Astronaut Phillips graduated from high school in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz. He told the students he first applied to be an astronaut when he was 25, but was not chosen by NASA until 20 years later, during which he pursued a career as a physicist. As an astronaut, he flew on space shuttle mission STS-100 in 2001, and then trained for 3½ years to qualify for duty aboard the International Space Station orbiting Earth.

Phillips wore a 300-pound space suit to perform spacewalk activity while on board the International Space Station. The effects of weightlessness make it possible for astronauts to wear the suit, which Phillips described as a small spacecraft, capable of sustaining life when the astronaut is outside the safety of the space shuttle. From April to October 2005, Phillips was part of the international Expedition 11 crew aboard the station.

Phillips showed a video of his time aboard the station and said the American and Russian astronauts his crew replaced on the space station both looked like Elvis Presley because their hair had grown to the length of the famed rock-and-roll singer in the six months they were in space.

The students, some sitting on the edge of their seats, groaned when Phillips told them he had to go almost a half year without a bath while orbiting in space. Special wet towels were the best he could get on the station.

Phillips urged students interested in following his path into space to take mathematics classes once they reach high school and college. Recalling his own 20-year quest to become an astronaut, he said it is important for students to persevere to get what they really want.

The 720 students in this largely Hispanic school also talked with Gwen Young, associate director for management at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California. Dryden is the sponsoring NASA center for Westwind School. Norman Robinson, who came from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, showed the students how to use the sign language tools of mnemonics to spell out NASA.

In addition to the daytime student visits at Westwind, the NASA team, led by Dryden education specialist Michelle Davis, held teacher workshops and John Phillips conducted an evening program at the school.

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Beth Hagenauer
Frederick A. Johnsen
NASA Public Affairs Office