Ground control to Major Tom
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Jul 14, 2011  |  Vote 0    0

Ground control to Major Tom

Ottawa East News

A group of Walter Baker Sports Centre summer camp students had the chance to work ground control for an astronaut on July 14 as past of an initiative to teach children about space exploration.

The upstairs Walker Baker meeting hall was packed with nearly 100 wide-eyed six-to-12-year-old campers. Fifteen of them got the chance to ask their own question thanks to the radio equipment of Amateur Radio International Space Station (ARISS) – a NASA program in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency.

The children had all sorts of queries for American astronaut Ron Garan ranging from what astronauts usually think about during liftoff to how they keep fit while in space.

Garan was in orbit aboard the International Space Station’s Expedition 28, which launched from Kazakhstan on May 23. He said July 14 was his 100th total day in space – and that he mostly works out on an exercise bike, which is strapped onto the space station.

“It was really cool,” said Madison Brockbank, 8, who asked Garan how long an astronaut could stay in space for. “It’s something I don’t see everyday and it was really neat. I liked learning about how they brush their teeth and how they look like their swimming without water.”

Lori McFarlane, ARISS volunteer and wife of Canadian co-ordinator Steve McFarlane, said she was glad the students were able to talk to Garan given that he was on a spacewalk the day before and connection issues sometimes come into play.

“It’s an experiment,” McFarlane said. “It doesn’t always work.”

A video screen showed a map of the Expedition 28 moving at 3,000 kilometres per hour, allowing the astronauts to travel from southern California to Minnesota-Manitoba border in a matter of minutes.

The ARISS program has been making presentations in Ottawa since September 2002, mostly to schools.

They made a similar presentation to the Barrhaven camp groups last summer and were welcomed back with open arms.

“It’s hard to find extra stuff for the kids to do,” Walter Baker camps director Christine Dawson said. “This is different for them.”

The program was originally started as a way to promote space studies and exploration in the classroom, but McFarlane saw what she thought were greater possibilities.

“It became so much more,” she said. “It gives kids a dream.”

While some like Victoria Pears, 7, merely enjoyed the educational experience – she learned how illnesses are treated in space – others like Madison started thinking about the far off future.

“I would like to be an astronaut,” she said, “as long as I’m not going to space with my brother.”

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