Santa Monica High School Students Query Astronauts in Earth-to-Space Skype Session


By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 30, 2017 — In a first, Santa Monica High School students queried two astronauts on the International Space Station via Skype Monday, learning about the rigors of daily life there, walking in space and what the craft smells like, which is either mushroom soup or something metallic.

“The thing you learn mostly is to overcome fear, physical fear,” said Randy Bresnik, commander of the 53rd Expedition to the space station. “You overcome that when you walk in space.”

Astronauts in Space Station tlak to Samohi students
Astronauts Joe Acaba and Randy Bresnick talk to Samohi students from space station Monday (Courtesy of NASA)

More than a dozen STEM students from the high school talked with Bresnik – a 1985 graduate of Samohi — and co-astronaut Joe Acaba in the 20-minute Earth-to-space Skype call to the school’s Barnum Hall, also watched there by an estimated 1,200 students.

The Skype call can be viewed on NASA’s website.

This is Bresnik’s second mission to the station. He launched July 28. Currently serving as Expedition 53 commander, he is expected to return to Earth in December.

Acaba arrived at the space station September 12 for his third space mission, and will return to Earth in February 2018.

Students asked Bresnik and Acaba about the challenges of living aboard the space station, like taking a bath (which Acaba said is easy).

The greatest challenge he told his questioner, a STEM student named Daniel Seizer, is “staying focused all day long,” even when the tasks are routine.

“We’re all pretty trained to tackle anything up here,” Acaba said. “But life aboard the Space Station is also fun. Every day is a little different. Today I was working out, then I was talking to you.”

A quick look at the space station’s calendar for October (courtesy of NASA), is proof enough of lots of highly unusual activity.

NASA said as the third round of spacewalks for October wrapped up last week that astronauts aboard the International Space Station conducted research that could contribute to better sleep in space and back on Earth.

They also set up a crystal growth experiment that could contribute to the development of better pharmaceuticals back on Earth.

The crew is also harvesting three varieties of leafy greens from the space station’s Veggie growth chamber and installing the next generation of plant research –- the high-tech Advanced Plant Habitat.

Acaba showed off a head of lettuce he has harvested, among three varieties (Mizuna mustard, Waldmann’s green lettuce and Outredgeous Red Romaine lettuce) used now for salads, a step toward becoming more self-sustaining in space.

Another student asked about the adjustment period from life on Earth. Acaba said he knew his psyche was changing when the nature of his dreams altered.

“I have dreams where I’m actually floating — floating instead of walking. It’s cool.”

Asked how they managed to overcome stiff competition to become crew members of the space station, Bresnik cited constant hard work and a love of learning, a trait common to astronauts.

He said he learned some important lessons at Samohi all those years ago, like juggling time (he had a part-time job in high school), self-discipline and how to study.

“Santa Monica High School gave me the good stuff I needed,” he said.

Bresnik also showed off a blue mini-backpack, gifted to him from Samohi, which he floated and said is fun to fool around with because it spins a long time.

“It’s fun to play with,” he said. “It’s neat.”

One question didn’t have a clear answer: What does the space station smell like?

Bresnik said cream of mushroom soup.

Acaba said metallic.

“I don’t know what kind of mushroom soup you eat,” Acaba ribbed Bresnik.

They ended the session by taking a jump upward and then floating off screen.

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