BSM students video chat with astronaut alum orbiting earth

| November 30, 2017 | 0 Comments

Students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park react to seeing an astronaut on the screen Nov. 28 during a video conference at the school between a select group of 50 students and Col. Mark Vande Hei, a 1985 graduate of the school who currently is aboard the International Space Station. School officials and NASA coordinated the event, which featured questions asked by the students. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Amelia Backes was part of a select group of 50 students at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park who got to talk to an astronaut Nov. 28.

Col. Mark Vande Hei, a 1985 graduate of the school, is aboard the International Space Station, and NASA arranged for him to have a video conference with his alma mater. Because NASA limited the number of participants, there was no guarantee Backes would be among those who would get to ask Vande Hei questions and listen to him describe what it’s like to be in orbit around the earth.

“Meeting an astronaut alone is incredible,” said Backes, a junior. “But, talking to an astronaut while they are currently on the ISS orbiting the earth is just so surreal. [That] is definitely the best word for it.”

Two weeks ago, Backes was in class and received a note to come to the school office. There, she was informed she was picked to participate in the event. She also was able to ask a  question during the conference, along with more than a dozen others. The video conference, which lasted nearly an hour, fueled her own ambitions to possibly follow in Vande Hei’s footsteps someday.

“I love science, I love all science,” she said. “Becoming an astronaut has always been the dream. … If I had the opportunity, I would take it without a moment’s hesitation.

“It definitely makes me want to become an astronaut more than ever. … Seeing him up there and hearing him talk about what it’s like, that just confirmed for me like, ‘yeah, that’s something that I would love to do.’”

She was not the only student in the group with astronaut ambitions. Eighth-grader Adam Cary-Swanson shares her career interests.

“I hope to either be an astronaut or be someone in charge of a rover that can be on planets,” he said. “I like learning about planets. I like learning about our solar system, the Milky Way and stuff like that.”

Those comments are music to the ears of his teacher, Lauren Reuss, who also was among those taking part in the video conference.

“There’s a lot of really cool connections to my class,” she said. “I teach earth science, which also encompasses space science. Looking ahead, in the spring we’re going to be covering astronomy. So, we can connect some of these experiences Mark is having to what we’re talking about in the classroom.”

One of the strongest reactions from the audience during the video conference came when a student asked Vande Hei to name the coolest thing he can do in zero gravity. He then did a backflip with ease, noting that he is not able to perform this maneuver under normal conditions. His answers to the questions were engaging to the students, with most of them staying riveted to the large screen throughout.

“Mark gave us a great mix of the playful and profound,” said Stephen Pohlen, BSM director of learning and technology who emceed the event. “He inspired us with his responses about working through adversity and collaborating with an international crew. And he amused us with his stories of weightless maneuvers and the oddities of everyday tasks in space like eating and bathing.”

Also in attendance were Vande Hei’s parents, Tom and Mary, parishioners at St. Hubert in Chanhassen, and they had the chance to greet their son. Naturally, one of their comments was “I love you.” For them, and probably most of the participants, the chance to talk with Mark was the highlight of the day.

“It was inspiring,” said high school biology teacher Mark Peterson. “I’ll tell you, the rest of my day is just going to go downhill, for sure. There’s no question about that.”

Vande Hei is scheduled to return to earth in February. The school is hoping he will pay a visit to talk more about his experiences.

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Category: Local News