Above, Elementary school students question astronaut Shane Kimbrough about his experience aboard the International Space Station.

By Agustin Garcia
Assistant Principal
92nd Street Elementary School

Theirs was no ordinary long-distance call.

Select students at 92nd, 93rd and 96th Street Elementary schools in Watts had the distinct opportunity to talk with an astronaut on the International Space Station via amateur radio. This activity is part of the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, which promotes learning opportunities as part of the science, technology, engineering and math initiative, commonly known as STEM.

The telebridge contact occurred just as planned, at 11:03 a.m., as the International Space Station flew over the ground station in Italy. Over the next 10 minutes, students excitedly questioned astronaut Shane Kimbrough before a jammed-packed crowd at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

Students, teachers and administration at the three schools prepared for the event diligently. The preparation began in early March with students and teachers working on research, and generating questions that were submitted along with a school story. Students also had two opportunities to practice their interviewing skills, and radio protocols during conference calls led by Mr. Frank Bauer of the amateur radio program..

The students learned a lot from the well-thought out questions presented to Mr. Kimbrough.

“Can you tell us what steps you must follow when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere?” one student asked. “Is there a problem with space junk? If so, how severe is it?” wondered another. “What is the proper procedure for eating in space so that your liquids or food don’t float away and damage any equipment?”

Mr. Kimbrough’s answers incited “oohhhs” and “aahhhs,” as well as laughter.

The experience is one the students will not soon forget. Talking to the astronauts lifted their spirits.

“It made me feel kind of nice about myself that I got that opportunity to talk to an astronaut,” said Noelia, a sixth-grader at 92nd Street Elementary. “Not many kids have a chance to talk to an astronaut.”

Ariana, who attends the same school, said the talk encouraged her.

“I think they took a lot of time to learn about science, and it made me feel inspired,” she said. “They told me, ‘If you want to do something, you can. Work hard and don’t give up on your dreams.”

A classmate, Edwin, who wants to be a game designer, said he learned that it’s important to push one’s limits and try new things.

“I would be nervous to doing new things, but now I say yes,” he said. “After this experience, I know I can do more. If I say ‘yes,’ good things might happen.”

Pushing limits is an important lesson not only for children to learn, but for adults as well. In particular, for exploring outer space like the astronauts. In response to one question, Mr. Kimbrough stated that the stars in space “are so brilliant and bright.”

It was a fitting metaphor for the futures of these and many more students of L.A. Unified’s Local District South.