• Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Sandra Magnus, both STS-126 mission specialists, are pictured with fresh fruit floating freely on the middeck of Space Shuttle Endeavour during flight day three activities on Nov. 16, 2008.

Students getting chance to chat with astronauts

Friday, August 27, 1999

Some students at Morgan Elementary School will be closer to space this fall than most people will ever get, when they talk to an astronaut during a shuttle flight.

The fifth-grade science classes have been picked to interview an astronaut at a linkup in the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

Students at Morgan Elementary, a high school in San Antonio and a middle school in Fort Yates, N.D. will interview astronauts on the space shuttle STS 99, said Helen Unruh, spokesperson for the Cosmosphere.

The shuttle launch is scheduled for mid-October. Each school will have 10 minutes.

Morgan science teacher Jane Davidson has taught at the Cosmosphere during summers. Fellow Morgan fifth-grade teacher Laura Wessel also has worked at the Cosmosphere. Their connection to the Cosmosphere helped Morgan receive the honor, Unruh said.

"I knew it was a unique opportunity for our students to experience a firsthand interview with the astronauts," Davidson said. "I feel this is a wonderful opportunity to allow them to understand the space program a little more."

Morgan has three fifth-grade classes. Ten students from each class have been selected at random to do the interview.

"My students' interest was really exciting," Davidson said. "Some of them started realizing what a privilege this was."

Wednesday, education specialists and NASA representatives Gregory Vogt and Gordon Eskridge came to Morgan to work with the fifth-graders. They explained the purpose of the shuttle mission and helped the students develop questions for the interview.

The crew of the shuttle will be using radar to create highly accurate topographical maps. The shuttle will fly over 80 percent of the Earth's surface during 11 days.

"This will give much more detailed topographic maps than we've ever had before," Vogt said. "A lot of maps have been based on aerial photography, and they're old. This will be very up-to-date."

The maps will be helpful for everything from urban planning to hiking maps to the placement of cellular phone towers, Vogt said.

The radar will even be able to see through forest cover and several meters of sand. Thus, the crew will be able to detect ancient roads and river beds that have been buried in the desert.

Vogt said about 15 schools have conducted previous interviews with space shuttles.

"It's kind of a rare experience," Vogt said. "That will be a neat day."

He said Hutchinson was chosen as a site for the interview partly because of the Cosmosphere.

"It's a wonderful facility and it's world class," Vogt said. "For us, it's easy because we've worked with the Cosmosphere."