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Astronaut Speaks To Flagstaff Students From Space Station

Flagstaff Unified School District

Students from the Flagstaff Unified School District made a long distance call this week—to space. Astronaut Anne McClain spoke with them live from the International Space Station as it passed over Arizona. Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory set up the call as part of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports on how McClain inspired the kids to dream big.

It’s not easy to get an auditorium packed with six hundred people—mostly kids—to quiet down. But the promise of talking to a real astronaut does the trick. They wait on the edge of their seats for NASA to connect the call.

"Coconino High School, this is Mission Control Houston, please call station for a voice check."

"Station, this is Coconino High School, how do you hear me?"

After a moment, astronaut Anne McClain replies: "I have you loud and clear, it’s nice to talk to you today!" and the room bursts into applause.

McClain has been on the International Space Station since December. It’s her first NASA mission. She’s got twenty minutes to answer a handful of student questions before the space station moves out of range. The kids go onstage to speak with her and see her through a two-way video feed.

Credit Flagstaff Unified School District

Credit Flagstaff Unified School District

Freshman Skylar Meister wants to know: "What was the training like to become an astronaut?"  

McClain replies, "The training to become an astronaut started the day I was born; I say that because I told my parents when I was three years old I wanted to be an astronaut."

She goes on to say she was a helicopter pilot in the Army when NASA selected her. Her training involved learning to speak Russian and fix broken parts on the space station. "When you think about it, we’re on a self-contained little house in the sky: if anything goes wrong, we need to fix it." 

Next 15-year-old Zachary Dawson steps up to the microphone:  "My question is how much of what you learned in high school do you actually use?"

The audience laughs when McClain responds, "Well, I’ll tell you a secret, I use a larger percentage of what I learned in kindergarten than what I learned in high school."

But then she tells a story about studying four days straight for a physics test in college and earning the top grade. "It was at that moment I realized it’s not about being smart: it’s about digging deep and studying hard, and I tell you , that is what you can learn in high school," she says.

The twenty minutes go fast. NASA disconnects the call with the words: "Thank you to all participants from Coconino High School. Station, we’re now resuming operational audio communications."

Credit NASA
Anne McClain

After the call is over, 10 years-olds Casey Green and Simon Pickup are bubbling with excitement. Green says, "I thought it was really cool to see somebody that was actually in space." Pickup adds, "It was cool to see her just floating around and not holding the microphone at all."

Skylar Meister says she’d never really thought about becoming an astronaut before, "but just seeing the Moon, and seeing the Earth from the Moon, would actually be really cool."

Freshman student D’ontye Anderson says talking to the space station was one of the best experiences he’s ever had. McClain’s background as a pilot was inspiring. "Ever since I was a little boy, like before preschool, I wanted to become a helicopter pilot and an engineer," he says, "That’s why I was like, whoa, she was a helicopter pilot, too. That was pretty cool."

Anderson says he’s already following her advice about the value of hard work to achieve his dream.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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