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Kids Q&A With Astronaut Steve Robinson
08.04.06
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STEVE ROBINSON: Hi! I'm NASA astronaut Steve Robinson. I've flown on three space shuttle missions and, coincidentally, they've all been on the space shuttle Discovery. My most recent Discovery flight was NASA's return-to-flight mission to the International Space Station in July of 2005. During that mission, I completed three spacewalks along with my partner, Soichi Noguchi from Japan. And on one of those spacewalks, we performed an unplanned repair to the shuttle Discovery's heat shield. Being an astronaut is an exciting job and I'd like to help you learn more about it. So, I'm ready to answer some of your questions.

EVAN: Hi. My name is Evan and I'm from California, and I would like to know: how long do people have to study just to be an astronaut?

ROBINSON: Well, Evan, you'd have to study a long time to be an astronaut. In fact, you never stop studying. As soon as you become an astronaut, you study more than you've probably ever studied in your life. But for me, I went to college to get a bachelor's degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering, and then I went to get a master's degree in mechanical engineering. And then I worked for a long time to get a Ph.D. in mechanical and, and aeronautical engineering. All told, that was many years -- I don't even want to tell you how many -- but the key is that study is how you get to the dreams that you want to achieve.

ABIGAIL: Hi. I'm Abigail from Riverside, California, and I'd like to know how astronauts prepare for a space mission.

ROBINSON: Abigail, preparing for a space mission is, it's sort of like going camping, except it's a little bit more demanding than that. But you have to take everything with you that you think you're going to need. That means all your equipment, all your clothes, all your food, all your hygiene things. You take along some CDs to play in space. And most importantly, you take along your crew. And these are the people who have become your very close friends, almost like family. You work very hard together, and you trust each other to do very difficult things. And it's a, it's a tremendous experience; you would like it.

JED: I'm Jed from England, and I was, wanted to know what happens on launch day.

ROBINSON: Well, launch day is very exciting, Jed, as you can imagine. You wake up and you sort of can't believe it's finally happening after you've been dreaming about it for so many years. So you get up and you go to the doctor and they check you one last time, and you have a little breakfast but you don't want to eat very much, and you can't anyway because you're excited. You put on your spacesuit and you get it checked out -- the big orange spacesuit. You walk to the elevator, go downstairs and get on a bus, and the bus drives you all the way to the launch pad. You get on another elevator and up to the crew cabin of Space Shuttle Discovery. You walk across kind of a long platform where technicians put on your parachute, check your spacesuit, then you climb into the space shuttle. The space shuttle is sitting on its tail, so when you get into your seat, you're actually laying on your back. And you get strapped in, and you wait for maybe an hour to two and a half hours strapped in, laying on your back as the space shuttle prepares for launch. And then, when it's finally time to go, it all comes true; your dreams come true.

REBECCA: Hi. I'm Rebecca from Tennessee, and I want to know what they pack in the payload bay.

ROBINSON: Well, Rebecca, the things we pack in the payload bay are anything that needs to go to space. It could be a satellite, it could be a piece of the International Space Station and, in fact, the space shuttle was made, it was designed to build a space station. So we're doing with it what it was meant to do. So we take up great big pieces of metal and hardware and then we use the shuttle robot arm to reach out, pick those pieces up and attach it to the space station.

BILL: Hi. I'm Bill. I'm from Los Angeles, and I was wondering how long astronauts stay in outer space.

ROBINSON: Well, Bill, astronauts stay in space nowadays on the International Space Station for six months at a time. Now, the Russian space program has actually had cosmonauts in space for more than a year at a time. Myself, I've only been on missions that have been around two weeks long, and I can tell you that's not long enough.

MARK: My name is Mark, and how do you land the spaceship?

ROBINSON: Mark, landing the spaceship -- the space shuttle -- is, is very exciting and very demanding. It's a glider, you know -- it doesn't have engines, so it has to be controlled very accurately. The computer controls it down to near the ground, right around 10,000 feet, and then the commander takes over and flies it all the way to the ground and lands it as a great big, heavy glider -- it's about a quarter of a million pounds -- and lands it at around 220 miles an hour on the ground.

TAEA: Hi, I'm Taea, and I'm from Helena, Montana, and I was just wondering if being an astronaut is fun.

ROBINSON: Oh, is being an astronaut fun! Yes, it is fun. It's fun to fly. It's fun to fly jets, it's fun to fly in space, it's fun to do spacewalks, it's fun to do training underwater or in the simulators. But the best part of all are the people that you work with. We work with some of the most interesting and intelligent and bright and motivated people that I've ever imagined. And they have a good sense of humor and a good outlook on life. That's the very best part of being an astronaut. Thanks for all those great questions. I'm Steve Robinson from NASA.

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