North Bergen students talk to astronauts in space

The answers came all the way from the International Space Station

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Astronauts Shane Kimbrough (left) and Mark Vande Hei (right) answer questions from students while aboard the ISS.
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Astronauts Shane Kimbrough (left) and Mark Vande Hei (right) answer questions from students while aboard the ISS.
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North Bergen students recently participated in a question-and-answer session with astronauts on the International Space Station.

During the live video, astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Shane Kimbrough answered questions from students, including those from the STEM Academy in the North Bergen School District and five other Title I Schools in New Jersey and New York.

“This is an historical event for our district and STEM Academy,” said North Bergen Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter. “The opportunity to have our students interact with NASA Astronauts during a mission at the International Space Station is something that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

The Sept. 24 event was broadcast via NASA TV. The North Bergen STEM Academy served as the virtual host location, since it anchored the application with NASA and spearheaded the event.

Students had to record their questions and submit them to NASA for a chance to be highlighted, not knowing if their questions were selected by NASA. Six questions were submitted by North Bergen students, including Aaliyah Garcia, Benjamin Diaz, Zahraa Elmansoury, Emily Estrada, Hailey Hernandez, and Samuel Diaz. All six were selected.

Q & A

Benjamin Diaz asked: “Do you work on experiments related to your specific expertise, or are you given tasks regardless of your background?”

“These days it’s regardless of our background,” Vande Hei said. “We’re all generically trained on how to do things, and so we may get something that we are familiar with one day, but the next day we’ll get something we know nothing about. So in most cases, I get a lot of things I know nothing about. But we’re trained very well by the ground teams, and a lot of times we’ll have the researcher actually talking us through the experiment, just to make sure that we’re doing things correctly. The last thing we’d want to do is to mess up any data that the ground team wants or the researcher wants. So we want to make sure we do things right, and we have a lot of help doing it.”

Emily Estrada asked: “What kind of tools will the Artemis astronauts use to complete their mission?” This refers to NASA’s upcoming Artemis III mission to the moon.

“So when we do get to the surface of the moon, a lot of what we hope to learn about is the structure of the moon,” Vande Hei said. “We’ve got lots of the moon we haven’t explored, so I would expect a lot of geology type tools.”

Sleeping and coming home?

Samuel Diaz asked: “How do astronauts prepare for and get enough sleep?”

“The first thing for me is having a schedule that’s consistent, so your body will keep in that same routine,” Vande Hei said. “The next thing I like to do is make sure that about an hour before I go to bed, I’m not looking at bright lights. So I actually have glasses I brought up here to to make it look more like a sunset. And even the lights on the space station, we can change the lighting so that it helps us be a little more comfortable going to sleep. So consistent schedule and some sleep hygiene, those things help out a lot.

Hailey Hernandez asked: “What are the difficulties faced when coming back?”

“Some of the challenges for me were tying my shoes, bending over,” Vande Hei said. “The small muscles in my torso weren’t as strong as I would have liked them to be. Even bending over to tie my shoes, there’s a lot of balance associated with that. My sense of which way was up and down was a little off. When I first sat up in bed I literally had to kind of push myself up with my arms. It was lots of little things. It was pretty interesting. But again, humans adapt quickly. And although my wife rolls her eyes at me when I say this, I like to think that it only took me about two weeks to feel like I was back to normal.”

Eating and studying?

Zahraa Elmansoury, asked: “How did you learn how to tolerate being within zero gravity?”

“Humans adapt to different environments very quickly,” Kimbrough said. “It takes a while. Some people a couple of days, some people maybe a week to figure out micro-gravity and learn how to fly around, but your body just gets used to it. If Mark goes upside down right now, his body treats it as completely normal. Obviously on Earth, you can’t do that but if you did on Earth, the blood will be rushing to your head and you have physical effects. Here, you don’t have that because there’s no up or down. Your brain and the human body, again, is an amazing thing even to be able to eat in this environment. You would think, with the gravity, how is the food going to get down to your stomach, but your body just figures it out. It’s pretty incredible and it’s pretty neat for us to be able to experience this and I hope you all get a chance to do it one day as well.”

Aaliyah Garcia asked: “As a female STEM biology student, what are some of the sciences I could study on the International Space Station?”

“There are hundreds of experiments going on in the space station,” Vande Hei said. “A large chunk of those have to do with biology… There’s all kinds of skills that you use in your biology classes that we use up here on the space station. That’s a fantastic field to go into, and certainly a big area of research on the space station.”

State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco attended the virtual event and offered the closing remarks: “I’d like to thank NASA and all astronauts for dealing with the questions and giving them proper answers to our students. We are so pleased to be involved in this program and so appreciative, and we understand the sacrifice you make.”

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.