[caption id="attachment_81274" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/05\/GBEMS.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="267" class="size-full wp-image-81274" \/> A pre-recorded interview with Astronaut Mark Vande Hei plays on a screen at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School while middle school students wait in their socially distanced circle to make contact with him on the International Space Station. With the help of members of the Eight Rivers Amateur Radio Club, the students were able to speak to Vande Hei as the ISS orbited the Earth. GBEMS was one of only 11 schools in the United States selected to contact the ISS. S. Stewart photo[\/caption]\r\n\r\nSuzanne Stewart\r\nStaff Writer\r\n\r\nIt has been more than a year in the making, but finally, on May 7, students at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School made contact with the International Space Station and had a conversation with Astronaut Mark Vande Hei.\r\n\r\nLast school year, students in the HAM radio club were learning how HAM radio was used by the astronauts to communicate with Earth. The club, which was formed with the help of Eight Rivers Amateur Radio Club, applied for the opportunity to contact the ISS.\r\n\r\nGBEMS was one of 11 schools in the United States selected to do so.\r\n\r\nDue to the COVID-19 pandemic, the date of contact was postponed until it was possible for the students to be at school.\r\n\r\nThe day finally arrived, and Anne Smith\u2019s science students gathered in the gymnasium for the event \u2013\u00a0joined by members of the Eight Rivers Amateur Radio Club and staff from Green Bank Observatory. The rest of the school was patched into the event through Teams and watched excitedly from their classrooms.\r\n\r\nStudents selected to ask questions of Vande Hei were socially distanced in a circle and rotated around two microphones in a choreographed round robin to ensure they wasted no time and were able to ask as many questions as possible.\r\n\r\nThe event was live stream-ed on Facebook and was accompanied by pre-recorded messages from the students, principal Julie Shiflet, Smith, GBO director Karen O\u2019Neil, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Senator Joe Man-chin, III and National Science Foundation director Sethuraman Panchanathan.\u00a0\r\n\r\nEveryone involved spoke of the magnitude of the day and how special it was for GBEMS to represent West Virginia as they made contact with the ISS.\r\n\r\nA video featuring Vande Hei was also shown to introduce him to the group and all those watching online.\r\n\r\n\u201cArriving at the Space Station, something I\u2019ll never forget is looking over my left shoulder out the window in the Soyuz where it was either a view of the Earth or blackness of space, and then all of a sudden, I could see a solar array \u2013 getting chills even thinking about it right now,\u201d he said. \r\n\r\nVande Hei said he broke the silence in that moment and said \u201cWow,\u201d to which the Russian commander who was at his side commented with a shushing motion.\r\n\r\n\u201cYeah, I was definitely a rookie,\u201d Vande Hei said, laughing. \u201cI was excited.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe spoke about how the ISS contributes to the experiments by being a unique environment unlike any on Earth.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe Space Station is very unique because on the Space Station, orbit is really a continuous free fall and, because of that, you can have some very unstable structures that might not be able to stay together if you\u2019re on the ground,\u201d he said. \u201cThey could stay together on the Space Station.\r\n\r\n\u201cFlames behave differently because combustion on the ground requires drawing in all these rich gases into the flame, because the hot combustion gases go up and away, but there\u2019s no up and away on the Space Station,\u201d he continued. \u201cAll directions are equal as far as that\u2019s concerned, so that behaves differently.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhile it keeps him away from home and his family, Vande Hei said he enjoys working on the ISS and is surprised that he even considers it a home away from home.\r\n\r\n\u201cSome people have talked about, at some point in the expedition, feeling like it\u2019s time to go home, but for me, there was always another space walk or another vehicle capture coming up,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nPrior to reaching out to the ISS, GBO educator Sophie St. Georges introduced the members of the Eight River Amateur Radio Club who were in attendance to make sure the connection was strong. They were Marty Bloss, Galen Watts, Joe Brandt and Rudy Marrujo, while Ray Creager was in the \u201cVIP\u201d section at the GBO listening in on the call.\u00a0\r\n\r\nIn addition to Eight Rivers, the event was made possible by the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station [ARISS], and NASA with support from the Pocahontas County Board of Education, The Snowshoe Foundation, Green Bank Observatory and Durbin Lions Club.\r\n\r\nGBO public outreach manager Amanda White, who emceed the event, introduced GBEMS student Dylan who was selected to \u201cmake the call.\u201d\r\n\r\n\u201cDylan was selected to make this call because of the incredible amount of enthusiasm that he has shown throughout this entire experience,\u201d she said. \u201cWe will have about ten minutes of contact time with the astronaut as the ISS travels from horizon to horizon and we will continue to ask questions until the signal disappears.\u201d\r\n\r\nDylan stepped up to the microphone and began the call.\r\n\r\n\u201cNovember Alpha One Sierra Sierra, November Alpha One Sierra Sierra from November Eight Romeo Victor for a scheduled school contact,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nAfter six tries and lots of static, the gymnasium was filled with Vande Hei\u2019s voice.\r\n\r\n\u201cNovember Eight Romeo Victor, this is November Alpha One Sierra Sierra,\u201d he said. \u201cI hear you loud and clear.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe conversation went as follows. Due to a request by ARISS, the students did not use their last names.\r\n\r\nDylan: \u201cThe Green Bank School is pleased to welcome Astronaut Vande Hei to speak with us today. Are you ready for student questions?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cI am looking forward to student questions.\u201d\r\n\r\nJade: \u201cWhat made you decide to become an astronaut?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cThe combination of mental challenge, physical challenges, as well as the opportunity to serve all of humanity.\u201d\r\nSteven: \u201cIs the ISS heated or is it always cold?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cThe ISS is actually very comfortable inside. It is controlled. The temperature is set much like the house, but this time the ground control team sets it for us, so we typically wear short sleeves and pants when we work.\u201d\r\n\r\nGriffin: \u201cHow often do you have to refill the oxygen tanks from Earth?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cGriffin, that\u2019s a great question. I am not 100 percent certain of that. I know that we\u2019ve got a slow leak on the station right now and just a few days ago, we opened up a couple of air tanks just to make sure we had enough nitrogen inside the space station. We have an oxygen generation system so we\u2019re able to convert some of our CO2 back into oxygen.\u201d\r\n\r\nDylan: \u201cHave you ever lost contact with the base? What are you supposed to do if that were to happen?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cHi Dylan. Actually very routinely, we have what we call a loss of signal or LOS, where we can\u2019t talk to the ground control team. A lot of times it\u2019s only for 20 seconds, but sometimes it\u2019s 10 minutes. And if it happens unexpectedly, we do have a procedure to follow to try to reestablish communications.\u201d\r\n\r\nFlorian: \u201cAsking for Aiden. What can you see from the space station that you can\u2019t see from Earth?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cSome things I\u2019ve seen from the space station that I\u2019ve never seen from the Earth are the thinness of the atmosphere, from outer space, it looks like the Earth has just a very delicate thin layer of atmosphere that we sometimes take for granted. Also, I\u2019ve seen meteorites burn up in the atmosphere. I\u2019ve seen aurora borealis from space, and it looks somewhat like curtains. Very different looking from the way it looks from the ground.\u201d\r\n\r\nKaden: \u201cIf you have any down time, what do you do?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cKaden, great question. We like to have meals together once a week along with the entire crew and with our Russian counterparts, as well. We\u2019ve been having a movie night once a week. I like to read for a little bit every night to relax, so I can actually sleep. And taking pictures is something we can\u2019t get enough of.\u201d\r\n\r\nElla: \u201cWhat are you allowed to bring to the ISS and what did you choose to bring?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cWe\u2019re allowed to bring things that aren\u2019t sharp or combustible, much like going on an airplane. We do have limits on the amount or size. I could bring half a kilogram on the spacecraft with me, and I\u2019m not sure how to describe it, a third of a carry on suitcase for personal items that I could bring up to the space station.\r\n\r\n\u201cMy wedding ring is one thing I definitely brought. But otherwise, I only brought things that my wife wanted me to take to space so she could give them as presents to other people.\u201d\r\n\r\nShayla: \u201cHow do you solve problems with each other if you get into arguments?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cThat\u2019s a very, very important thing on the space station. The most important thing is to talk about it. If we are angered with another crewmember, we\u2019ve just got to pull them aside privately and talk about it, and almost always, we\u2019re able to resolve it successfully. We actually get a lot of training on that.\u201d\r\n\r\nCadence: \u201cDoes the food go to the top of your mouth when you eat because of micro gravity and does it feel different to eat and drink in space?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cCadence, that\u2019s a fantastic question. I\u2019ve never thought about that. No, it doesn\u2019t. I think my tongue makes contact with the food quickly enough that I don\u2019t notice it going to the top of my mouth. However, I can tell you when I open a food package, for example, rice, if I don\u2019t put something like olive oil or garlic paste in there, the rice goes flying all over the place.\u201d\r\n\r\nCharlie: \u201cAsking for Amber. What do you do about trash?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cTrash, we have to make sure we collect it, because, just like that rice, it would go floating all over the place. Once it\u2019s collected, we have to wait for a spacecraft to put it into to get rid of it. We currently have a Cignus spacecraft docked to the space station. We are loading that up with as much trash as possible and then when it departs, it will burn up in the atmosphere.\u201d\r\n\r\nMakenzie: \u201cIs it possible for an animal to be pregnant in space?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cMakenzie, great question. I suspect it\u2019s possible, but I\u2019m just making a guess. I really do not know what issues there might be with pregnancies in space.\u201d\r\n\r\nWillie: \u201cAsking for Garret. Has there ever been a critical failure? What protocols or drills do you have in case one happens?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cSo there are three emergencies, we call them. A rapid depressurization, an ammonia release into the space station or a fire. I know we\u2019ve had false alarms for those things. I\u2019m not 100 percent certain that we\u2019ve had any for real, although we do have a slow depress because of the leak I mentioned earlier, and we train a lot for all three of those contingencies. I know on previous space stations, on the Mir Space Station for example, they did have a fire.\u201d\r\n\r\nTaylor: \u201cWhat are the emotional challenges in space?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cTaylor, the biggest emotional challenge I have in space is being kind to myself. When I make a mistake, I beat myself up about it and get grumpy. I just have to forgive myself and move on to the next thing so I can pay one hundred percent attention to the next thing I\u2019ve got to work on.\u201d\r\n\r\nOlivia: \u201cAsking for Charlie. How is your sleep or work schedule different in space than it would be on Earth?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cThe sleep schedule is kind of the same, but it\u2019s actually a longer work schedule. I like to get about eight hours of sleep at night and they schedule that for me on the space station. The work schedule goes from about 7:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night.\u201d\r\n\r\nAlison: \u201cAsking for Trenton. How do you get news from Earth? Were you worried about COVID affecting your support system on the ground?\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cWe get news from Earth from a support team. We have a behavioral health and performance group that we tell what podcasts we like to listen to, what magazines we like to read and they actually upload those to the computers on the space station. I\u2019m happy to say that most of my family has been immunized, but that continues to be a concern, but it\u2019s lessening as time goes on, and more and more people get immunized.\u201d\r\n\r\nJulie Shiflet: \u201cThe Green Bank Elementary-Middle School would like to thank Astronaut Mark Vande Hei, call sign KG5GNP on the count of three.\u201d\r\n\r\nMark: \u201cThat got me choked up. Thanks for that. Really great questions today. It was a pleasure talking with you. Have a wonderful day.\u201d\r\n\r\nJulie Shiflet: \u201cN8RV, over and out.\u201d\r\n\r\nA video of the event is available on the Green Bank Observatory and Green Bank Elementary-Middle School Facebook pages for those who could not tune in live and want to experience the once in a lifetime event.