Local Essay Winners Talk To Astronaut

Lew Crampton, Isabella Swiger and her grandfather Jim Nagle, who served as the radio operator.

About a dozen students from Palm Beach County got to live their dreams by speaking live with an orbiting astronaut on board the International Space Station when the South Florida Science Center & Aquarium recently hosted the ARISS (Amateur Radio on board the International Space Station) event. Students in grades 2 through 12 from public, private and home schools wrote a 250-word essay on the topic: “If you had a chance to ask an astronaut any question, what would it be and why?”

Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut on board the ISS, answered the 12 winning questions while the space station orbited over the Georgia/Florida border. The communication was done through ham radio, thanks to one of the largest amateur radio organizations in the country. Traveling at 17,000 miles per hour 250 miles up in the air, the ISS was only in radio contact for eight minutes. But that was enough to change lives.

“Our sense of exploration, wonder and discovery in space is not dead,” said Lew Crampton, president and CEO of the Science Center. “We’re going to Mars, and some of these young people might be so inspired, they will take their place in history and further the mission. We’re all about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and this is the perfect event to inspire the next generation of explorers.”

Parents attended the event, watching each of their children speak into the radio to a human off this planet, adding to the excitement of the special day.

Isabella Swiger from Western Pines Middle School asked Nespoli how he does laundry in space. Nespoli answered that water is too precious a resource to wash clothes, so they wear their shirts, underwear, socks and pants until they throw them away.

Dishika Parikh of Elbridge Gale Elementary School asked, “How easy or difficult is it for astronauts to adjust their body’s circadian rhythms knowing that it is always dark in space?”

“This incredible opportunity coincides perfectly with our new blockbuster exhibit, Astronaut,” Crampton said. “We are thrilled to open students’ minds to science, encouraging them to look to the sky and beyond for careers in space and STEM-related fields.”

Astronaut immerses visitors in the International Space Station, with hands-on exhibits of what it’s like to blast off into space, train like an astronaut and get an inside look on life off this planet. The exhibit will show what it’s like to sleep, eat, shower and even use the bathroom in space. Visitors will also get the chance to be absorbed in team problem-solving, to overcome challenges, and practice landing a capsule.

Sponsors of this event include BE Aerospace, Comcast, Discover the Palm Beaches, the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, the Quantum Foundation, the Tourism Development Council of Palm Beach County and WPBF.

The ARISS program was created and is managed by an international group of amateur radio organizations and space agencies, including NASA. ARISS lets students worldwide experience the excitement of talking directly with crew members of the ISS, inspiring them to pursue interests and careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and engaging them with radio science technology through amateur radio.