Students Communicate With Astronauts From International Space Station At Newton High School

  Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Andre Kulpers speaking to students from the International Space Station. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
  Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ) addresses the audience. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
  School administrators work to connect to Johnson Space Center in Houston. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
  Sign introducing the downlink. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
  An onscreen view of Johnson Space Center. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
  NASA badges created by the students. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller


NEWTON, NJ – Eighth grade students from the Newton, Andover and Green school districts gathered yesterday at Newton High School for a special NASA Downlink event to learn more about life for International Space Station Astronauts.

As part of the opportunity, students had the chance to pose questions directly to Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineer Andre Kulpers of the International Space Station, and watch their questions answered directly via live video piped in to the Newton High School auditorium.

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“This type of thing is so, so neat and something I dreamed of as a kid,” said Congressman Scott Garrett (R-NJ).

 “New Jersey has been able to be a state that’s made advancements in this area,” Garrett continued, pointing out astronauts Buzz Aldrin, who hailed from Glen Ridge, NJ, and Orange, NJ natives Mark and Scott Kelly.

Other dignitaries were part of the event including Senator Steven Oroho (R-24), Assemblywoman Allison McHose (R-24), Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-24), Sussex County Freeholder Director Phillip Crabb, Sussex County Freeholder Deputy Director Parker Space, Freeholder Member Richard Vohden, Newton Town Manager Thomas Russo, and Colonel (Ret) Edward Petersen of Picatinny Arsenal.

After a few tests, and countdowns, students, teachers, parents, and dignitaries were able to get a view of the control center in Houston, and then Burbank and Kulpers were patched through directly and up on the screen. There were a few slight interruptions in transmission during the program while speaking to the astronauts.

“The technology is amazing that you can come to school and talk to astronauts,” agreed Dawn and Rich Murray, parents of one of the students who had a chance to interview the astronauts.

“How do you know what time to follow?” one student asked.

“We pick any time zone we want,” Burbank replied, explaining the various time zones in the different control centers throughout the world, from Moscow to NASA in Houston.

“If someone is sick is there a doctor on board?” another student asked Kulpers.

Kulpers said he is a doctor, and typically there are either two medical doctors or two members of the crew trained as medical officers on board.

“When was the moment you knew you wanted to be an astronaut?” was a question posed to Burbank.

“My grandmother bought for me science fiction booklets, and I saw IMAX movies, and pictures of the space shuttle,” he replied.

A student asked Kulpers, “What means of communication do you use to communicate with your family? Radio, downlink, email?”

Kukpers told students he typically interacts with family members via a special telephone system, and video connection.

“What is the most remarkable thing or place you’ve seen from space?” a student asked Burbank.

“Earth, it’s indescribably beautiful, and it’s always changing,” Burbank replied. He also described Comet Lovejoy’s passage in front of the sun as “a spectacular show.”

“It’s a great day for the Tri-District Consortium,” Dr. G. Kennedy Greene, Superintendent of the Newton Public Schools said. The Tri-District Consortium is comprised of Andover Regional, Green Township, and Newton Public Schools.

The NASA Downlink Expedition 30 was coordinated as one of the ways to enhance the student learning experiences through the Tri-District Consortium’s multi-part program to strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education. Other initiatives include: more updated computer equipment including a 3-D printer, strong partnerships with companies like Thorlabs and Picatinny Arsenal, and programs within the schools.

The Newton High School Robotics Team is another facet of the STEM initiative and, will be heading to St. Louis to nationally compete. Team Aperture is coached by Jim Hofmann, technology teacher at Halsted Middle School, who received special recognition by Greene for his efforts.

“I was very pleased to be invited to this special event today at Newton High School,” said Russo.  “I understand that many months of planning went into making this NASA/International Space Station event a success, and the staff, administrators, faculty, organizations, and parents who made it happen are to be commended.” 

As part of the preparation, teachers from the Halsted Middle School, said students participated in weeks of lessons geared towards NASA.

Different groups were recognized for playing their part in the coordination of the downlink event. Service Electric Cable TV and Communications, Picatinny Arsenal, Johnson & Johnson, Sussex County Amateur Radio Club, Motorola Corporation, Janice Mezier, Tri-District Downlink Committee, Superintendents of Andover, Green and Newton, Boards of Education of Andover, Green and Newton, Newton Police Department, Congressman Scott Garrett and Staff of the Fifth District of NJ, Teaching From Space Department of NASA, municipal and county elected officials, and DC Designs all received special thanks.

Following the downlink, engineers from Picatinny Arsenal coached students on the diversified career options available in technological and engineering fields, and the importance of inventing. Petersen introduced engineers Ralph Tillinghast and Shahram Dabiri.

“We are looking for you to be our future workforce in this area,” said Petersen.

“You guys get to decide, it’s up to you to choose where you want to take this technology,” added Tillinghast. “Science, technology, engineering and math can help you change the world.”

“I hope the children of the various middle schools appreciate and value the once-in-a-lifetime experience they had today.  I also hope that maybe someday, a group of these very same students, will find themselves working at Picatinny Arsenal and NASA,” Russo concluded.

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