Sea Road School STEM educator Ann Stockbridge works with student Bridget Gates in this February file photo. The school recently learned that the planned conversation with astronauts aboard the International Space Station is scheduled to go forward during the week of Jan. 18 -22. Susan Bloomfield photo

KENNEBUNK – The mission is a go – youngsters at Sea Road School will converse with astronauts on the International Space Station sometime during the week of Jan. 19-22.

The students do not know which day just yet, but will be informed on Jan. 11, said STEM educator Ann Stockbridge.

The school which educates more than 400 children in grades 3 -5, is one of just 10 nationwide chosen for the special conversation, or contact, as it is called in space-related circles. The school and space station contacts allow education audiences to learn firsthand from astronauts what it is like to work and live in space.

This week, said Stockbridge, students were to be introduced to the project and begin preparations.

“The students themselves will submit their own questions,” said Stockbridge. “The STEM staff will go through them to determine the most common, or pertinent.”

She said 10 students who will ask the questions will be selected randomly, but will be representative of the Sea Road School student body.

Stockbridge said students can volunteer to be one of the 10 who get to ask the questions to astronauts in real-time. With the limited time available – the space station has to be over a ground station to work – she said the students will supply about 20 questions, but astronauts are generally able to answer about 10.

Among many questions asked by students from other schools during contacts are how the space station has changed an astronaut’s outlook on life, what a spacewalk feels like, what the astronaut’s favorite foods are aboard the space station, and a favorite experiment.

Students and staff at Sea Road School don’t yet know the exact date when the young people will be able to talk with astronauts aboard the International Space Station, but it is coming soon – sometime between Jan. 19 and 22. Courtesy Image

The event is a once in a lifetime opportunity, borne out of the organization called ARRIS, a joint venture by NASA, the American Radio Relay League, and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, to facilitate communication between astronauts aboard the International Space Station and schools and communities around the world, according to the ARRL.

New England Radio Discussion Society, a Maine radio club comprised of federally-licensed radio amateurs, known as ham radio operators, approached the school about the project a couple of years ago. It is actively helping plan the contact, said member and founder Alex Mendelsohn.

He said local radio amateurs will present the students with short videos and technical talks as they prepare for the conversation.

“Some students will listen to a story read by an astronaut on the International Space Station, ” said Mendelsohn of the preparations. “Others will train like astronauts in their physical education classes. Some students plan to paint artistic starry-night pictures, and others will calculate planetary distances in their math classes.”

He said NASA is now celebrating its 20th anniversary of Amateur Radio operations on the space station. Primarily used as an educational tool to spark interest in science, technology engineering and math, ham radio also provides a contingency communications system for NASA and the space station crew, according to the ARRL.

The crew includes Commander Bill Shepherd, an American ham radio operator, and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev, a Russian ham radio enthusiast.

In a February Kennebunk Post story by Susan Bloomfield, Mendelsohn described amateur radio as an exciting scientific and cultural activity and said he believed the best way to attract young people to ham radio was through space travel and its supporting technology.

“It is the nexus of radios, computers, smart phones, the web, geography, and languages,” he said. “It’s a natural.”

Given the coronavirus pandemic, Stockbridge said an online conference will be used.

“Previously these contacts would have taken place in a school gymnasium with the rest of the student body watching the students asking the questions, ” said Stockbridge. “With Covid, we have altered the plan so each student can be remote, if needed.”

She said the school is pioneering the conference approach for the ARISS team.

Those who want to track the day and time can visit https://sites.google.com/rsu21.net/arissrsu21/home.

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