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Pocahontas County school gets out-of-world opportunity with space chat

GREEN BANK, W.Va. — Students at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School in Pocahontas County had an out-of-this-world experience on Friday morning.

Through a program by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS), students contacted astronaut Mark Vande Hei on the International Space Station (ISS). Vande Hei, who was born in Virginia then raised in New Jersey and Minnesota, spoke to the students for around 10 minutes until the signal disappeared as the ISS traveled from horizon to horizon.

Mark Vande Hei

A student named Dillon made the call to Vande Hei with a special code and got through after several attempts. From there, the students asked questions to Vande Hei including one from Dillon about if he had ever lost communication with base.

“Actually very routinely we have a loss of signal or LOS where we can’t talk to the ground control team,” Vande Hei said from space. “A lot of times it’s only 20 seconds but sometimes it’s 10 minutes. If it happens unexpectedly we do have a procedure to follow to reestablish communication.”

Aiden asked the astronaut a question about what he could see from the space station that he couldn’t see from Earth.

“Some things I have seen from the space station that I have never seen from the Earth is the thinness of the atmosphere. From outer space, it looks like the Earth has a delicate thin layer of atmosphere that we take for granted,” Vande Hei said.

“I’ve seen meteorites burn up in the atmosphere.”

Vande Hei earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Saint John’s University and a Master of Science in Applied Physics from Stanford University, his NASA bio said.

He was commissioned in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program and served as a combat engineer. In 1999, he became an assistant professor of physics at the United States Military Academy in West Point. Vande Hei is currently serving as Flight Engineer aboard the ISS for Expedition 65.

Jade, a student at the school (GBEMS), asked Vande Hei why he wanted to become an astronaut. Many students expressed the wishes of going to space one day.

“The combination of mental challenges, physical challenges as well as the opportunity to serve all of humanity and explore,” he said.

GBEMS was chosen through a competitive application process by ARISS, which is an international program that inspires students to pursue STEM careers.

GBEMS is located near the Green Bank Observatory, which is home to the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world.

The event was broadcasted on the ARISS Youtube page and through other social media outlets which garnered viewership from all over the country.

The students said their goodbyes and sent well wishes to Vande Hei once they were losing connection.

“Gosh, I am getting all choked up over this. There were great questions today, it was a pleasure to talk to you. Have a great day. Over…,” he said.

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