What happens when an astronaut gets sick in space? Do the astronauts get on each other's nerves? What would happen if the International Space Station were struck by debris?
These were a few of the questions students from Blair Pointe Elementary School asked Thursday when they spoke to ISS Commander Shane Kimbrough.
Blair Pointe Elementary is one of only 12 organizations around the world to speak with the ISS in a 6-month period as part of a grant through Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, otherwise known as ARISS.
Blair Pointe applied for the grant last year after Maconaquah Elementary was awarded it in 2015. Bill McAlpin, president of the Miami County Amateur Radio Club, assisted in the grant application and helped the school connect with the ISS Thursday morning.
The students were given approximately 11 minutes to speak with Kimbrough. The ISS moves so quickly that they had to connect as soon as it was within range of their radio set-up, and they lost contact as it passed over the Atlantic Ocean. Within those 11 minutes, the ISS traveled about 3,000 miles.
It was a tense few minutes when McAlpin began trying to contact Kimbrough.
“November Alpha One Sierra Sierra, this is Whiskey Delta Nine Golf India Uniform,” he said several times, followed only by static.
Finally, Kimbrough responded.
Fifteen students lined up to ask Kimbrough questions. One student asked how many people live on the ISS at one time. Kimbrough said only six, because the shuttle used to get to it can hold only three people.
Another student asked what happens when astronauts get sick in space. Kimbrough said they have a well-stocked supply of medicine and equipment.
“But fortunately for us, nobody’s gotten sick on our mission,” he said.
Kimbrough provided several answers during the 11-minute contact with the school. He said he and the astronauts perform several kinds of experiments every day, and they have to exercise regularly to keep their bones from deteriorating in zero gravity.
He said the astronauts go through extensive training before going into space, but nothing prepared him for his first space walk, which he said is the hardest physical thing about his job.
“You just can’t train for that experience,” he said.
Hannah Baker asked whether bones break differently in space than they do on Earth. Kimbrough said he wouldn’t know for sure because none of his crew have broken bones while on the ISS. He speculated that bones would probably break in a similar way, though the healing process might be different.
“It was amazing to get to talk to an astronaut,” Baker said after the event.
A few other students asked questions that Kimbrough could only answer theoretically because they haven’t happened, such as what would happen if an astronaut became unhooked from the ISS or if the ISS were struck by debris. One student asked if he worried about the ISS traveling beyond the Milky Way Galaxy. Kimbrough said thankfully those situations have not happened, though they are trained for most emergency scenarios.
One student asked if the other astronauts ever get on Kimbrough's nerves. He answered by saying that it's always a possibility with six people in a small space disconnected from the rest of the world, but the astronauts are trained to be able to work well together.
Kimbrough will return to earth next month after having been in space for six months. He said he’s looking forward to seeing his family, adding that if he could bring his family on the ISS with him, it would be a perfect set-up.
Terri McCain, a fifth-grade teacher at Blair Pointe, said she was grateful for the opportunity to speak with the ISS.
“I thought the kids had wonderful questions,” she said. “I thought it was amazing.”
The ISS's next contact is with a junior high school in Komotini, Greece.