Winmalee over the moon about close encounter

It took two years to organise but this school excursion was literally out-of-this-world.

22 April 2021
A young boy speaks through a microphone held by his teacher.
Image: Space junkie: Helped by teacher Alison Broderick, Alberto asks his question about whether the space station avoids rubbish.

Students at Winmalee Public School had a direct line to the stars this week when they were given the chance to speak to an astronaut on the International Space Station as he orbited 430 kilometres overhead.

The 11-minute call was two years in the making after school science teacher Alison Broderick applied to NASA and ARISS International (Amateur Radio on the ISS) to be part of an amateur radio operators’ program that enables students around the globe to speak to an astronaut.

The students entered the school’s ‘Ask an Astronaut a Question’ competition, and eight were chosen to speak directly to space station astronaut Victor Glover, a member of crew 64 and the 2024 Artemis moon mission.

Kindergarten student Alberto Campos-Wagner, 5, was delighted to find out in answer to his question that the crew try to avoid hitting space junk.

“I was really excited the day before I got to speak to the astronaut and I liked talking to him,” Alberto said.

Indiana Bartush in Year 1 admitted to being nervous about the call.

“I had butterflies in my stomach and Miss Booth said that if you have butterflies in your stomach, it means you’re going to go well…and I did go well! I like the way Victor talked to me,” she said.

Thanking their amazing science teacher for organising the call, Ayva Dacey in Year 4 recognised the event as a once-in-a-lifetime experience while Erin DeBono in Year 5 was amazed there had not been a technology glitch.

Year 6 student Asher Renwick agreed: "I’m still on a massive cloud of happiness. Victor was so nice and his answers were excellent. I realised that most people come home to their family each day and take that for granted, but astronauts can’t do that. The whole thing was better than I ever thought it could be.”

A group of students stand in front of a large audio-visual screen.
Image: Over and out: The Winmalee students and teacher Alison Broderick after speaking with the space station astronaut.

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said she was thrilled that the space station could be brought into the classroom and for students to have this rare opportunity.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for students to be able to speak with an astronaut and connect what they’re learning at school to real life events,” Ms Mitchell said.

Principal Kate Ford said the students were very excited about the event.

“All of our students have been studying a unit on space this term in science, with a focus on the International Space Station, so they were in a great position to ask to some excellent questions,” she said.

“It’s hard to imagine anything more inspiring in science than to be able talk live to an astronaut while they’re in space. I’m sure the enthusiasm this exercise has generated will stay with many of our students for a long time.”

Mrs Broderick said she was relieved and excited that the event had finally happened after the long process of approval. She was just as excited as the students about speaking live to an astronaut.

The school community flooded into the school hall to witness the event.

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said she was thrilled that the space station could be brought into the classroom and for students to have this rare opportunity.

NASA’s mission control in Houston, Texas, first called at 5.40pm to prepare for the 6.30pm contact. The actual time that the station remained in radio range before it dipped below the horizon was about 11 minutes.

The students asking the questions ranged in age from 5 to 11, and the topics included what microgravity feels like, the experiments done on the ISS, what happens in an emergency, space junk, and even what personal items were allowed.

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