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Videoconference links Greencastle-Antrim fifth-graders with astronauts

May 01, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- A pair of Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School fifth-graders got excited Wednesday when they learned they would be addressing a group of astronauts through NASA's Digital Learning Network.

Andrew George and Haley Ricker asked questions for the Greencastle-Antrim fifth-grade class via videoconference to the crew of seven, which is preparing in Greenbelt, Md., for a servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope this summer.

"I said, 'Holy crap' when I found out," said Haley, daughter of Harry and Amy Ricker. "I got really nervous because I was going to be talking to a space commander. It was really scary."

Haley stilled her nerves long enough to address Commander Scott Altman.

"After you are done working on Hubble, how do you put it back in orbit?" she asked.

Altman told Haley that the crew is in orbit with the telescope while it is being worked on and separates from it only when it is time to return to Earth.

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"I was just wondering how they would get it back into orbit," Haley said. "They answered it."

Andrew later asked Chief Scientist John Grunsfeld how long it takes for information to reach Earth after it is received by the telescope.

"My teachers talk about a bunch of different stuff but we've never talked about how long it takes for the information to get back," Andrew said.

Grunsfeld informed the students that the telescope has an on-board computer that records data that is sent using a high-speed Internet connection through a network of earth-orbitted satellites.

When the data is received, it must be processed through a computer to be calibrated and corrected. He compared it to digitally altering an image by changing the brightness and contrast.

So, Andrew got his answer, but he seemed more thrilled that he was actually picked to speak to the crew.

"I was like, 'Oh my God,'" said Andrew, son of Christi and James George. "I never win anything unless it's bingo or something, so I was excited. I actually got to talk to real astronauts."

Andrew and Haley are in Mandi Shick's class. Their questions were picked by Shick and submitted to principal Chad Stover, who relayed them to NASA. Each fifth-grade teacher submitted questions from two students.

"We had a class discussion and anybody that wanted to volunteer questions could," Shick said. "We chose the best ones."

Stover sent about 18 questions to NASA and only two were selected from Greencastle-Antrim. Students from four middle schools in Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington also submitted questions and participated in the live videoconference.

Kayleigh Smith introduced the Greencastle-Antrim students to the crew, which interacted with the students for about 45 minutes.

Most of the students had never participated in a live videoconference.

"It was really cool because it was live. It was actually happening now," said Robert Rider, also of Shick's class. "Everything was happening in real life."

Meanwhile, Joey Sparra liked hearing from the astronauts themselves.

"I really enjoyed it because I've never met an astronaut before," he said. "I never really wanted to be an astronaut, but I learned a lot from them. It was cool."

The crew has targeted an Aug. 7 launch date for the fifth space shuttle service mission to repair the observatory's capabilities through 2013, according to NASA's Web site. The mission should last 11 days.

Tara Clopper, a teacher at Greencastle-Antrim High School, served as a liaison to NASA and the school district and was a master of ceremonies of sorts during the videoconference. Clopper is working with NASA in a one-year teacher exchange program in Greenbelt.

"She lines up events like this one and sees them through," Stover said. "It's cool that she's a teacher here and helping with NASA."

After the videoconference, the Greencastle-Antrim students recommended more videoconferencing events.

"If the opportunity arises, then sure," Stover said.

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