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Pinellas students to chat with space station astronauts

This morning, Johnalyn Gordon and 14 fellow Pinellas County students will get to chat with astronauts at the space station.

Photo by Terri Bryce Reeves

This morning, Johnalyn Gordon and 14 fellow Pinellas County students will get to chat with astronauts at the space station.

Hello, it's NASA calling.

Flight engineers Doug Wheelock, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker want to speak with you from the International Space Station — more than 200 miles above the earth.

Talk about a long-distance call.

But it's one Trekkies like Johnalyn Gordon, 15, will be happy to take today.

That's when she and 14 other Pinellas County students, chosen from elementary, middle and high schools, will ask the astronauts questions during a 20-minute period starting at about 11:40 a.m.

"Even for one who grew up in the age of technological advancements by the minute, it's unbelievably mind-boggling," said Johnalyn, a sophomore enrolled in East Lake High's Engineering Academy.

"I keep thinking that if I could tell my great grandfather … that people will be able to communicate with us from space, he would think I was crazy," she said.

Up to 400 students, educators and others are expected to witness the cosmic chat in the auditorium at the Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

As part of the program, astronaut Robert Springer will share some face time with the students at the center, and NASA education staffers will conduct experiments.

Today's event is one in a series of NASA's collaborations with educational organizations designed to spur interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Joe Cuenco, the science center's executive director, said the event is "history making," at least for this area.

"It's the first time something like this has been done in Pinellas and, as far as I know, the Tampa Bay area," he said.

The event is free and open to the public, but those who can't make it to the science center can watch the streaming video at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

Johnalyn and the other 14 students completed NASA lesson plans in robotics and marine science and then submitted questions for the space team.

Johnalyn, who hopes to become a bio-medical engineer, will ask the flight engineers about their ability to track oil and measure the effectiveness of cleanup operations.

She says her dad, John Gordon, who nurtured her love of the cosmos.

When he taught her to "reach for the stars," he meant it, she said.

Though his own dream of being an astronaut never materialized, the 54-year-old traveling salesman always finds a way to be home and stargaze with his daughter when meteor showers, eclipses or other celestial events are scheduled to take place.

"Talk about being up at midnight or 2 in the morning," said Johnalyn. "We have watched meteor showers at the Dunedin Causeway in the wee hours of the mornings so many times. Some of the best memories I have in my young life."

Her father will be at the Science Center today and Johnalyn is making a non-scientific prediction.

"He'll probably be crying as I am asking the question," she said.

Fast facts

Space Chat

Where: Auditorium, Science Center of Pinellas County, 7701 22nd Ave. N in St. Petersburg. Also streamed live on the Internet at www.nasa.gov/ntv.

When: The downlink is scheduled between approximately 11:40 a.m. and noon today; the experiments and astronaut visit are from 10:30 a.m. until noon.

Info: Call the Science Center at (727) 384-0027.

Pinellas students to chat with space station astronauts 09/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 7:35pm]
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