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Students Connect Live With Spacefaring Astronaut
Students look at an astronaut projected on a large screen

A student listens attentively as Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum tells her about living and working in space. Image Credit: NASA

More than 150 middle and high school students from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland had the opportunity to hear about living and working in space from International Space Station Commander Mike Fossum. The live downlink from space took place during a special education event on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, hosted by NASA and the Department of Education in recognition of International Education Week. This year's IEW theme is "Inspiring Students Locally to Succeed Globally." The event continued a long-standing partnership between the two agencies and celebrated the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller and NASA Associate Administrator for Education and former astronaut Leland Melvin welcomed the students from the following Washington area schools: Hayfield Secondary School, Thoreau Middle School, Cooper Middle School, Frost Middle School, Lanier Middle School, Walt Whitman Middle School and Aberdeen High School. In addition, students from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Germany, Japan and Russia participated in the event remotely. The Department of Defense Education Activity, or DoDEA, helped identify the students to participate in the event, many of whom were from U.S. military families.

Miller told the students that studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, in school could lead to many exciting career options. He also noted that we are connected globally more than ever before, so learning to work and communicate with international colleagues would be a real key to their future success. The students then turned their attention to the very long-distance call coming in over the speakers and on the auditorium screen.

Astronaut Fossum has been a resident of the International Space Station since June and became the Expedition 29 commander in September. He is scheduled to return home later this month. Prior to his current long-duration space mission, Fossum flew two space shuttle flights in 2006 and 2008.

During the 20-minute exchange, about a dozen students asked questions ranging from what he missed the most during his stay in orbit (answer: his family, particularly his new granddaughter born in May) to what kind of science was being performed on the station (answer: combustion research, protein crystal growth and human health investigations for which he is the willing "guinea pig"). He closed the communications downlink thanking the students for their interest and participation and encouraging them to stay curious and study hard.

Leland Melvin

NASA Associate Administrator for Education and former astronaut Leland Melvin conducts a post-downlink Q&A session with students. Image Credit: NASA

Leland Melvin then took the stage to answer additional questions from the students and share his personal spaceflight experiences as a mission specialist on STS-122 in 2008 and STS-129 in 2009. He echoed the advice to study hard, particularly STEM subjects. In addition to studying hard, he emphasized how important teamwork is no matter what your interests or career choice, from being part of a space exploration team to being an athlete. He also shared that the natural curiosity that exists in each of us can help us determine where our interests and passions lie, and once we know that, the sky's the limit.

DoDEA Director Marilee Fitzgerald then addressed the students and their teachers and spoke of how our varied life experiences teach us as much as classroom learning, citing the day's downlink as an example. She thanked the astronaut corps -- particularly its military members -- for sharing their experiences with the future generation who will be travelers, workers and learners in space.

Before closing the event, Melvin presented the representatives from the Department of Education and DoDEA commemorative montages of the day's event.

IEW, a joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of State and Education, was first held in 2000; today it is celebrated in more than 100 countries worldwide. This annual initiative aims to promote international understanding and build support for international educational exchange by encouraging the development of programs that prepare Americans to live and work in a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study in the United States.

NASA's live, in-flight education downlink is one in a series with educational organizations in the U.S. and abroad to improve teaching and learning in STEM. It is an integral component of Teaching From Space, a NASA education program that promotes learning opportunities and builds partnerships with the education community using the unique environment of space and NASA's human spaceflight program.

Related Resources:
› NASA Education
› NASA Teaching From Space Office
› International Space Station

Ann Marie Trotta/NASA Headquarters Public Affairs Office