Yuma Elementary Students Talk to Astronauts on the International Space Station

Mar 19, 2018

An elementary school in Yuma connected with astronauts on the International Space Station recently through a NASA video call.  KAWC’s Maya Springhawk Robnett was there…

Over a hundred children, from kindergarten through sixth grade, sat on the floor of the cafeteria of H.L. Suverkrup elementary school, staring up in awe as two astronauts, Scott Tingle and Norishige Kanai, spun in zero gravity on the International Space Station, or ISS.  The video was live and these astronauts spoke directly to H. L. Suverkrup students.  It’s called an In-flight Education Downlink. 

NASA organizes these downlinks for select schools to connect with ISS astronauts.  H. L. Suverkrup students, like 9-year-old Zairah Castillo, were given the opportunity to ask questions.

“I have never seen astronauts before so it was really exciting to talk to the astronauts,” Castillo said, “I asked, ‘What did it feel like to look back at the Earth for the first time?’”

"What did it feel like to look back at the Earth for the first time?" - Zairah Castillo

Floating in the ISS, Kanai answered Castillo’s question.

“The Earth is very big, very beautiful and it’s changing often,” said Kanai. “I actually forgot that time is passing while I’m watching the Earth.  It’s a very, very nice view.”

Many of the students at Suverkrup have families who work in agriculture, so they were surprised to hear from Tingle that they were growing lettuce in space.

“We water them by putting water in a big syringe,” Tingle said, “we suck it out of a bag, and then we attach the tube to the bag where the plants’ roots are held and we push the water into the contained bag and soil and food for the plant.  And that’s how we water the plants!”

Lisa Love, a reading interventionist at Suverkrup, organized a visit from NASA engineers with the students, a virtual trip to Mars on a rover, and this opportunity for the students to meet with astronauts on the International Space Station.  For Love, the event was an emotional one.

“I’m just so excited!  I looked out over the crowd as it was starting and I had to pull myself together because I was starting to tear up,” Love explained, “I was just so excited that they get to have this experience and watch those astronauts up there in space and—it was just surreal.  It was just amazing that it was happening.”

Love put the event together because she remembers her own fascination with space as a child.  She said she hopes this experience sparks something in the kids.

"I hope it planted something in their hearts that will last forever and keep them looking up into the stars always." - Lisa Love

“I could see the lights and the smiles on their faces,” Love grinned, “and I hope it planted something in their hearts that will last forever and keep them looking up into the stars always.”

Trish Valentin, the Principal of H. L. Suverkrup, echoed that sentiment.

“You know, I’m hoping that it just ignites a passion for them and an excitement,” she said, “And if even just a few of them maybe look at space…in their future and where they’re going to go with their future.”

Some community leaders came to the event, including Yuma City Councilman Michael Shelton. 

“Well, I was invited to come and I have always had a deep interest and love for the space program and space travel generally,” Shelton said, wearing a tie with the face of Spock from Star Trek. “So I wanted to come here and show my support for what Suverkrup is doing today.”

The H. L. Suverkrup mascot, the Bulldog who wouldn’t reveal his secret identity, said he was happy to see the kids have this experience:

“They spend all their time watching Star Wars movies and Star Trek movies and so they get into, like, the imagination of visiting distant planets and stuff.  And so when they see this stuff, it feels real for them.   I’m glad we did this because it opens up the opportunity for the kids.  So they’ll be able to do all this stuff that seems impossible to them one day.  Hopefully.”