President Obama Calls Discovery, Space Station Astronauts
President Obama Transcript March 24, 2009

STAFF: Discovery, International Space Station, the president of the United States.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello. Commander, can you hear us? Oh, I got to --

COMMANDER MICHAEL FINCKE: President, welcome aboard the International Space Station, where we're joined with our international crew from the Space Shuttle Discovery. Welcome aboard. Glad to hear your voice. We hear you loud and clear, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. We've got a crew of wonderful school children here who are all interested in space, and we've got some members of Congress who are like big kids when it comes to talking to astronauts. I'm told that you're cruising at about 17,000 miles per hour.

So we're glad that you are using the hands-free phone. (Laughter.)

MR. FINCKE: Mr. President, we go around the planet once every 90 minutes. It's quite a thrill, and it is very fast. And we see 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That is unbelievable.

Well, the first thing we want to do is just let you know how proud we are of you, I've got to say especially once I found out that you're from Bellwood [Belleville], Illinois.

MS. SANDRA MAGNUS: Mr. President, it was a beautiful place to grow up, and I have a lot of roots that are still there.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, that's great. The -- we are really excited about the project that you're doing. My understanding is that you're installing some additional solar panels on the space station, and that's actually going to increase the number of people that can work out of the space station. Is that correct?

MR. JOHN PHILLIPS: Yes, sir, that's correct. We've roughly doubled the amount of solar power available for experimentation and for supporting a larger crew, and we hope to go to a crew of six and a more aggressive experimental program this year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is really exciting, because we're investing in, back here on the ground, a whole array of solar and other renewable energy projects. And so to find out that you're doing this up at the space station is particularly exciting.

Can I ask how, exactly, do you up installing these solar panels? What's involved? Somebody want to give us a rundown on how you go about doing it?

MR. STEVE SWANSON : Yes, sir. First it comes up on a truss segment, which is about five feet long. We use a robotic arm to attach it to the of another truss segment. And then once that's attached and bolted on through space locks, then we'll go ahead and unfurl or actually deploy the solar arrays in a position so that we can unfurl them from inside -- (inaudible) -- software.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: About how long does it take?

MR. SWANSON: Space lock, if you put it all together, it's about six hours, but to actually do the (commanding ?) to actually deploy them out to their full length only takes about (two ?) hours.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously, we're really proud about the extraordinary work that our American astronauts are doing. You know, you are representative of the dedication and sense of adventure and discovery that, you know, we're so proud of.

But one of the things that's wonderful about this is that it is an international space station, and I know that we have our Japanese and Russian counterparts on board as well. We'd love to say hello to them, and hope that this is an example of the kind of spirit of cooperation that we can apply not just in space but here on the ground, as well.

MR. KOICHI WAKATA: Yeah, it's an honor to have a chance to talk with you, Mr. President.

We have a Russian crew member, an American crew member, and I'm from Japan. And we have 15 countries working together in this wonderful project -- (audio break) -- international space station, as well as on the ground, in space. And this really symbolize the future of the scientific development of the world. And I am just happy to be part of this.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's wonderful.

MR. YURY LONCHAKOV: Mr. President, we work together, so everything, it's really, really important for us. And the American, Russian, Japanese, Italian, and to everybody -- people, all people work -- in space -- (audio break).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, I noticed you're bouncing around quite a bit there, guys. (Laughter.) Are you wearing something to strap you down -- (chuckles) -- or are you about to float away?

COMMANDER FINCKE: Mr. President, we're just holding on with our toes onto some handrails below us, and at any moment, we could all just easily float up. And that's one of the fun thing about -- about flying in space. We get a chance to talk to a lot of kids and show them all the adventures that we have flying around.

It's also -- it's not just a lot of fun. It's a little bit tough on our bodies. We have to exercise. And so we get a chance to talk to a lot of schools while we're up here, schools all over the planet, to help inspire the next generation.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, I hear that you're going to be talking to my alma mater, Punahou School, when you fly over Hawaii.

COMMANDER FINCKE: We're looking forward to that, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. Well, you tell them "Aloha." Listen, we've got a bunch of young people here. I want to see if any of them have some questions.

Anybody have a question over here? Okay, this -- hold on, we've got a young lady right here who's got a question.

STUDENT: As a astronaut, what do you eat?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Did you hear that question? They want to know what you guys are eating up there.

MR. RICHARD ARNOLD: We're eating really well. We eat a lot of -- it's prepared at NASA, but it's kind of like backpacking food. It's dehydrated. We rehydrate it and warm it up. We also use -- have food similar to Meals Ready To Eat that they use for the military and that a few of us ate last year when the hurricane came through Houston.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Do you guys still drink Tang up there?

(Laughs, laughter.) I've got Bill Nelson here, and he says that that's been taken off the menu. (Laughs, laughter.) Any -- that's, by the way, before the time of you young people. We used to drink Tang. (Laughter.) We got a young man right here. Hold on one second.

STUDENT: Can play video games in space? (Soft laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Can you play video games in space?

(Laughter.) MR. PHILLIPS: We can, in fact. And in fact a few years ago, when I was up here for six months, I had a video game that I used to play in my spare time. Unfortunately, we don't have much spare time.

So we can. We have a lot of laptop computers. But for the most part, we stay real busy doing real work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The -- tell us what -- what kinds of experiments are you doing? Once you got the panel up, what kinds of other activities are you doing? Is it mostly just maintaining the craft, or are there certain experiments or projects that you're engaged in as well?

MS. MAGNUS: Well, sir, we have experiments already up here that we've been doing for many years, and we'll be able to double that with the addition of the solar ray that our shuttle fris brought up.

We do a lot of experiments on combustion, understanding materials, understanding how -- you know, we're Guinea pigs, so understanding how people's bodies change in space. And all this is in preparation for long-duration missions to the moon and Mars. And the exciting thing about doing science up here is we really don't know what we don't know, and that gives you the greatest potential for learning. And we've had a lot of cases where people have set up experiments, and we've conducted them here on the space station, only to find out that we've learned something new, something more about the fundamentals of the processes and the science. So it's a really great place to learn a lot.


Any of the young people have another question? This young man right here. Hold on one second.

STUDENT: Have you found any life forms or any plants out in space?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's a good question. Any -- any life forms out there, other than you guys?

MS. MAGNUS: (We ?) actually did an experiment on this mission to take a swab or a sample of the surface of the EVA, the space walker's gloves, both before and after the space walk. And that's a -- that was sort of a demonstration of the type of technology that we'll be able to use on the moon and Mars for the same purpose, to try and see if we can determine what sort of bacteria or microorganisms are living in the various environments we're going to encounter.

We unfortunately haven't really found anything here. I think we'll have much more success at finding new types of life and different structures when we go to places like the moon and Mars and moons of Titan and these other types of environments.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent question. All right. We got a young man back here.

STUDENT: What things did you have to study to be a(n) astronaut?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. That's a good question. You guys are all extraordinarily trained. What -- is -- if we've got some budding astronauts over here, what -- what should they be doing? I'm assuming they better hit the books on science and math.

MR. TONY ANTONELLI: That's -- you got it just right. The -- one of the beautiful things about getting to work here is you can study just about anything that you're really interested in, science and math being a big part of it. But we have medical doctors, geologists, engineers and physicists in the group here with us.

So it's pretty much anything in the math and science field.

We've got a couple of schoolteachers here with us, so -- studying education as well as the math and science. But there really is room up here for everybody.

The important part, though, is to work really hard and do well in school. It'll make a difference in your future.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And what about -- what about fitness requirements these days? You know, some of us remember watching "The Right Stuff," where -- (laughter) -- that's pretty impressive. (Chuckles.) The --

MR. LEE ARCHAMBAULT: Well, Mr. President, the fitness requirements are still --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- is there a particular fitness regimen -- go ahead. Go ahead. I'm sorry.

COMMANDER LEE ARCHAMBAULT: Mr. President, the fitness requirements are still there.

Matter of fact, the International Space Station just recently incorporated a new fitness machine. It's like -- it's a very, very fancy workout machine you'd see in a gym. But it's called the ARED, and we can do a lot of good exercise on it, leg -- strength training for your legs as well as your upper body.

So it -- and particularly for the long-duration folks, it's very important to maintain your muscles in good tone and help you readapt when you get back on planet Earth.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Excellent. Okay. There's -- a young lady back here had a question.

STUDENT: When you say you exercise, what do you do?

MR. JOSEPH ACABA: Well, we have a couple of different exercise machines up here. On the space shuttle, we brought up a -- it looks like a -- like a bicycle that you would find in a gymnasium, so we can use that. And they have one here on the space station. And the other machine, you can do all kinds of stuff. You can do squats, you can do curls. We have a lot we can do. We also have a treadmill, so you can go ahead and run up here in space.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Any -- okay, we got another question from a young man. Hold on.

STUDENT: Do you know how many stars there are in space?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Asking how many stars in space. I'll be interested in hearing the answer to this one. (Laughter.)

COMMANDER FINCKE: Well, aboard the International Space Station, we can look down and see our beautiful planet Earth, and we can also look up and see the rest of the cosmos. And we can see that there are so many stars out there that it's very hard to count them all.

And we can see that our Earth is a very small -- very small planet in such a big universe. And it's just really amazing, because it gives us a deep perspective of -- we have to really take good care of our own planet, and that our own planet is just a -- is a small place, and we have the whole rest of the universe to work together in an international sense and go explore this whole universe that's in front of us and all the discoveries that we'll make together.

So maybe we will someday be able to count how many stars that we have, because we're starting to go them, go to the stars as human beings together. And that's what's really exciting about serving aboard the international space station and flying up and down on space shuttles is that we're part of that great adventure.

And we need you kids to study hard, because we can't do it all by ourselves. We really need you guys to work hard and do whatever you're supposed to do and do it well, like Tony said, because there's a whole universe in front of us.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I had -- I had a quick question. The -- does weightlessness have an impact in terms of your ability to sleep? MR. ARNOLD: Sir, we just arrived here just a few days ago, and it's taken a while of getting used to, for me, personally, missing a pillow. You're used to laying down on a mattress and having a place to rest your head. And so it's taken a while to get used to that.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the -- I know the kids got a chance to ask some questions. I want to make sure that if there are any members of Congress who've got some questions that they're interested in, that they've got a chance, too.

Okay, hold on. This is Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): I understand that you are doing experiments on salmonella and watching those organisms and how they react and grow. And we've had some salmonella problems here on earth. What do you think you will be able to learn from the environment in space that maybe you couldn't learn here on Earth?

MR. PHILLIPS: Actually going to have a bit of a hard time answering that question. We do indeed have an experiment called the National Laboratory program vaccine experiment in which salmonella are -- in which certain microorganisms are exposed to salmonella. My job as an astronaut was basically to turn the crank and activate the experiment, and then after about four or five days turn the crank again and deactivate it.

I'm not exactly sure what the scientists are going to do with the data back at home or with the samples. We are returning, however, eight big vials of samples of these -- of these cultures of microorganisms and salmonella and let the scientists go to work.


This is Bill Nelson. He's -- he's -- he knows a little something about this stuff.

SENATOR BILL NELSON (D-FL): Hey, guys. I wish I were up there with you.

You are just getting to the point where it's really looking like a full-up national laboratory, where we can really do the experimentation. When will you have it full-up ready to go, where we can then reap the results of that $100-billion investment?

MR. FINCKE: It's nice to hear you again, sir.

The International Space Station has already been delivering some of the science we've promised. Where we are now is, in Expedition 18, our crew, is we're making the turn from three people to six people. The next crew that comes after us, a few months after we get replaced; we'll have six people onboard the International Space Station.

So that's why we needed the solar power. That's why we needed the second toilet and other things, so that we have room and facilities for six people. And once we have six people, we'll have enough time and energy, solar power, I mean, to run all the experiments that we can. And then it's just a matter of getting enough experiments up and down, from the space station, to really reap on that science. We've already been delivering. And we've got a lot more to come.

And like Sandy said, there's a lot of things we don't know. So there are some really interesting discoveries out in front of us.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Do any of the young people have any more questions?

Hold on one second. We've got one here.

STUDENT: Do you love doing your job?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: They asked if you love doing your job.

MR. WAKATA: Yes. It's wonderful to work in space. Ever since I saw Apollo 11 lunar landing, when I was five years old, I always longed for going to space and work. And here, dreams came true. I had to study hard and work hard. But I'm so happy to be here. And I'm loving living here and working with so many wonderful people here.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The -- just a couple of logistical questions.

How long did it take from the time of launch? How long does it get -- does it take to get to the space station?

COMMANDER ARCHAMBAULT: Well, Mr. President, let me answer that in two ways.

First of all, it takes us about eight-and-a-half minutes to get to orbit. And at that time, we're going 17,500 miles an hour.

But we're in a bit of a tail chase with the space station. And it's approximately about a day-and-a-half, two days later that we actually rejoining with the space station.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. So eight minutes just to get into orbit, but then you've got to basically try to -- to catch up with the space station and match up, so that you can -- you can lock in.

COMMANDER ARCHAMBAULT: Sir, that's exactly right.


Anybody have anymore questions?

Hold on one second.

STUDENT: What's your favorite or the most interesting experiment you're working on up at the space station?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. Do you guys have a favorite experiment right now?

MS. MAGNUS: That's a really tough question, because they're all interesting in different ways. Mike and I were doing a flame experiment. We were trying to help the scientists on the ground understand how fire behaves up there. There's all kinds of reasons for that. So that was interesting, because it's sort of an unusual environment to intentionally put a fire.

I think one of the ones I like the most is an experiment that we're doing, on ourselves, to try and understand how our nutritional state changes and our biochemistry changes. And that will help us design food and understand a little bit more about the processes that the human body undergoes. That's probably my favorite one. But there's all kinds of interesting things in all of the experiments.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, can I ask you a question?

The -- were you tempted to cut your hair shorter while you were up there? (Laughter.) Or do you -- is it fun in weightlessness? (Audio break.)

MS. MAGNUS: That's a really good question because it's a bit of an overhead to take care of long hair here. Ideally, a short hair cut is the way to go, but quite frankly on me it wouldn't be so nice, so I kept it long.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it's a real fashion statement.

We've got another young man back here.

STUDENT: How much spare time do you have in a day?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It sounds like you guys are pretty busy.

MR. ACABA: They do keep us pretty busy up here. We have a very tight schedule that starts from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep. But they give us a little bit of time in the morning to get yourself ready, get yourself cleaned up, have some breakfast, and the same in the evening. So we can use that time to either call down our family or friends, or maybe even check our email and see how things are going back on earth.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's interesting. Does email work pretty much the same between the space station and computers here on earth.

COMMANDER FINCKE: Mr. President, as just about everyone on the planet knows is that email is a pretty important way for us to keep in touch with each other. Even though we're really far away and traveling really fast we still use email also. Unfortunately, we only synchronize our emails once or twice a day, sometimes three times a day, so it's not as fast and instantaneous as we are used to on the ground. But even so, it's a really useful way to get in touch with other people. In addition, we have kind of a voice over Internet protocol telephones, so it's really nice that we can get a chance to talk to our families, not 24/7. But when we do have good satellite coverage we do get a chance to call home. And for those of us who stay up a long time, that's really important to us.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well I know that you guys probably have a whole bunch of stuff to do. But we may have one more question from a member of Congress. Hold on one second.

REP. SUZANNE KOSMAS: Thank you very much. My name is Suzanne Cosmos and I actually represent central Florida, the area that includes the Kennedy Space Center. So I want to first thank you on behalf of all American for your service to us, and for what you represent in terms of America and our supremacy in space exploration along with our international partners, and what you're doing there at the International Space Station. I had the honor of being at the Kennedy Space Center last week when you took off, and it was a fabulous, absolutely fantastic launch. So I wish you adieu from there and now I'm wishing you hello from here. I want to thank you again for your service and tell you how excited I am to be representing the Kennedy Space Station and that area, but for also what you do that inspires people to be interested in the science and technology that has led us to this pioneering place where you are. And the things that we anticipate that we will be able to reap from your service I'm very thrilled about, particularly the idea, as the president has said, of alternative energies and the fact that you're using solar panels in space. What we're hoping, in the long run, that you will be able to, from space, use solar energy to come back to Earth.

And again, I'm thrilled to be here, and very excited to have the opportunity to talk to you. And thank you so much for your service to our country.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think that all -- (off mike).

COMMANDER ARCHAMBAULT: Thank you, ma'am. We appreciate that. And each one of us here is very lucky and honored to be right where we're at here today. So the honor is all ours. We're honored to be here doing this great work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think all of us echo the sentiment.

We are extraordinarily proud of you. We're so grateful that you took the time to speak to all of us. I know these young people are pretty excited to be on a direct link with astronauts in space.

So does everybody want to say goodbye?

STUDENTS: Goodbye!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. They all -- they're all beaming. And we appreciate you guys. So look forward to seeing you when you're back on the ground. God bless you.

COMMANDER ARCHAMBAULT (commander, Space Shuttle Discovery): Thank you, Mr. President. On behalf of the Space Shuttle Discovery crew here in the dark blue shorts, I want to say we're very honored that you spent some time with us today. It meant a lot to us.

We thank you very much.

And from one Chicago guy to another, I wish you well, sir.

And for the closing comments, I'll pass the microphone off to Commander Mike Fincke, the commander of the International Space Station.


COMMANDER MIKE FINCKE (Commander, Expedition 18, International Space Station): And Mr. President, I'm not from Chicago. I'm sorry about that. But my crew and I were -- are really happy to have a chance to talk to you and share our adventure with even more people. It's pretty impressive, what human beings can do when we work together constructively and not destructively. And that's the mission of the International Space Station.

So thanks for joining us. Thanks for flying with us at 17,500 miles an hour today. We sure -- we're glad to have a chance to share it with you and the distinguished members from Congress as well as all the kids out there.

So everybody, thanks again for joining us.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you guys. Bye-bye.

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