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Encouragement for future fliers

Astronaut discusses space travel with Hicks students

Astronaut discusses space travel with Hicks students

December 06, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

An astronaut's comparisons to sugar cubes and wet-dry vacuums brought space a bit closer to home Monday for eighth-graders during a special presentation at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

Students' hands launched into the air as Lee M.E. Morin fielded questions about space flight during an hourlong session at the school.

He handled one of the first inquiries with a little dry humor, but no surprise. According to the astronaut, people always want to know how space travelers use the bathroom.

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"I can tell you that is very much like the process here, except you're sitting on a huge Shop-Vac," Morin said.

A U.S. Navy flight surgeon who served in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm, Morin logged more than 259 hours in space aboard NASA's Space Shuttle Atlantis. He told students to work hard in school, and he encouraged them to pursue careers as scientists and engineers.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., a senior member of the House of Representatives' Committee on Science, introduced the astronaut. The students just finished a unit on space, Principal Roger Stenersen said.

For 13-year-old Elise Sweeney, Morin's message was exciting. The eighth-grader said after Morin's presentation that she would like to go to space.

"Totally, yes," Elise said.

Equipment from the Washington County Free Library allowed students to watch a video feed cued up by Johnson Space Center in Houston as Morin talked, but they could not interact with astronauts there as planned.

Jimmy Green, a computer support technician for the school system, said the middle school's high-speed fiber optics could make other distance-learning opportunities possible.

"Hopefully, if they have some more, we'll be able to interact some more with the people out in NASA," Green said.

Elise seemed most impressed with the idea of a zero-gravity existence.

"Because I want to go to space and I want to float, and I want to do all the cool machines, and I want to see the moon ... All the cool stuff, mostly the floating," Elise said.

From outer space, Morin said the clouds above the earth look like "little sugar cubes." It takes about a day to adjust to life without gravity, Morin said. At first, "You float around, and you feel like you're a fish in an aquarium," he said.

Morin, who earned doctorates in medicine and microbiology from New York University in 1981 and 1982, is working on helping design the cockpit of the new Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will replace the space shuttle. He was somber when students asked about the astronauts killed aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, and he told one student who asked that he did not consider it appropriate to talk about whether the astronauts' bodies had been found. He called the seven "very good friends."

Despite the dangers, Morin was quick with a reply when a student asked about the worst part of space travel.

"It's when you have to come back," he said.

Stenersen said he hopes Morin's message will reach students who might think space is beyond their reach. About half of the school's students are eligible for free and reduced-priced school meals because of poverty, Stenersen said.

"We want to inspire those kids," Stenersen said.

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