CLCA Lead Flight Director Leah Rigall and Joel Caldwell with children of the IDEA Homeschool program that spoke live with ISS NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams.
Growing up with Astronaut Jeffrey Williams in Superior, Wisconsin, Joel Caldwell of Kenai says it was no surprise that Jeff today is the Flight Engineer currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during Expedition 13, “Something I knew about Jeff even when we were kids was that Jeff would do whatever he set his mind to do. Everything that we did was about adventure whether we were jumping off bridges or climbing up trees. Jeff’s dad was my history teacher in high school and he taught us that at his home and in the class room that there was no limit that we could do and go anywhere we dreamed to go,” said Jeff’s friend.
With every minute of Expedition 13 meticulously detailed, it was Caldwell’s personal friendship with the Astronaut that made the live conversation possible, according to Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) Lead Flight Director Leah Rigall. “At the request of Joel’s wife Gail we have been working since March with a group of twenty IDEA students on a workshop series about Expedition 13. Through Joel, Astronaut Williams learned of the children’s studies and has emailed the group on several occasions encouraging the group as they learned about robotics, astronomy, and human physiology in space. It was the personal request from Williams because of his friendship with Joel and a lot of help from NASA that made the live communication possible,” said Rigall.
Alaska’s extreme northern latitude makes HAM contact very brief with the ISS as it orbits Earth. Contact from Kenai was limited to 7 minutes, so students prepared questions in advance using protocols to reduce the dead air time and leave as much time as possible for the answer. “I was interested in how the astronauts got around in some of the connecting tunnels that they have in the ISS so I asked him about that,” said 12-year-old Jacob Caldwell. “I asked him if the stars and the moon were brighter from the ISS than from Earth and he said they are and that the stars don’t twinkle and explained to us it’s the particles in our atmosphere that give them the appearance of twinkling,” said 10-year-old Caleb Caldwell.
Coming up Saturday, September 9th, from 8:00am noon, The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska will remember and celebrate the lives of the Challenger crew at a free community open house in Kenai. Lockheed Martin has partnered with the Challenger Learning Center to bring NASA Astronaut Ken Reightler to the Center for the festivities. Along with meeting a NASA astronaut, children of all ages can build and launch their own rocket at our Rocket Launch Pad and test their skills manning the robotic arms. Tours of the Center, including the space station simulator and Mission Control, will also be available. The Challenger Center is located at 9711 Kenai Spur Highway next to Kenai Central High School. Contact Leah Rigall at 907-283-2000 for more information.
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