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Danbury Calling: Students Make Contact With Astronauts On Space Station

Marianna Teixeira, 12, who is in the STEM program at the Westside Middle School Academy, is one of about 20 children who spoke to astronaut Shane Kimbrough on the International Space Station (ISS) that's orbiting the earth.
Marianna Teixeira, 12, who is in the STEM program at the Westside Middle School Academy, is one of about 20 children who spoke to astronaut Shane Kimbrough on the International Space Station (ISS) that's orbiting the earth. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox
Jon Neuhausel, STEM theme coach at the Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury, speaks to the audience about the space program.
Jon Neuhausel, STEM theme coach at the Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury, speaks to the audience about the space program. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox
About 20 Danbury kids ask questions of astronaut Shane Kimbrough on the International Space Station (ISS) that's orbiting the Earth.
About 20 Danbury kids ask questions of astronaut Shane Kimbrough on the International Space Station (ISS) that's orbiting the Earth. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox
There is a large turnout at the Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury to watch the kids participate in the space program.
There is a large turnout at the Westside Middle School Academy in Danbury to watch the kids participate in the space program. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox
One by one, students line up to ask the question that they thought up.
One by one, students line up to ask the question that they thought up. Photo Credit: Sandra Diamond Fox

DANBURY, Conn. — It’s interesting to learn about astronauts from a textbook. But about 20 Danbury students got the once-in-a-lifetime chance Thursday to speak directly to an astronaut who is in outer space.

The students, from Danbury's Westside Middle School Academy’s seventh grade STEM program and the fourth and fifth grade at South Street Elementary School, asked questions of astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who is on the International Space Station orbiting the earth.

“It was really fun," said Marianna Teixeira, 12, who is in the Westside STEM program. "I liked talking to the astronaut because it was cool. It was really exciting because I've never done anything like this before."

Marianna said her class had been preparing for six months.

"We worked a lot on questions and ideas that we wanted to ask," she said. "We had to brainstorm questions that could not be answered by a 'yes' or 'no.'"

They faced a unique challenge in composing the questions.

"Also, the questions couldn't be ones you could look up on Google to find the answer to," Marianna said.

The questions included:

  • What does it feel like to leave the earth’s atmosphere?
  • What is the most difficult part of your job?
  • Did you always want to be an astronaut?
  • Does it bother you to be away from your family?

According to Jon Neuhausel, STEM theme coach at Westside Academy, the purpose was to learn about ham radio as well as about space exploration.

“NASA only chooses 50 organizations worldwide to make the contact. And in the United States, they only chose 10 groups, and we’re one of those 10,” he said.

“This is the culmination of a year-and-a-half of work getting us to this to this point."

Aside from developing questions, students also learned about space and the International Space Station to prepare.

The communication was coordinated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Amateur Radio on the ISS (ARISS) via ham radio.

After connecting through telephone to a ground station in Australia, the station contacted ISS via a radio link.

One by one, the students — who formed a line against the wall — asked questions to Kimbrough, who is in command of the spacecraft.

Some of the students are now working on getting their Level One ham radio license.

Gary Dahlstrum, a local ham operator and parent of children who participated in the program, helped set up the contact with Kimbrough.

Dahlstrum said he sees the program as a foreshadowing of the future.

“A lot of you in STEM will have careers in engineering and science, and that’s what space exploration needs," he said.

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