Hay River students went where no Hay River students had gone before on May 1 as they spoke to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, currently orbiting the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The 10-minute conversation was short, but featured a variety of interesting questions for the first Canadian commander of the ISS, whose fame skyrocketed this year after he began sharing photos from space on social networking websites.
Buffalo Airways’ Mikey McBryan was the first Hay Riverite to speak to Hadfield, introducing himself and thanking him for taking the time to speak to the students.
“Go ahead with your first question, DJSS,” were the words spoken by the operator to the packed crowd in the Diamond Jenness Secondary School concourse, kicking off the conversation with Hadfield.
Brenna Beck, a Grade 3 student at Harry Camsell School, was the lucky first.
“Knowing that you wanted to be an astronaut at an early age, how was school different for you than for your classmates?” she asked.
“I decided to learn and think about what it took to become an astronaut,” Hadfield replied, referring to when he was in elementary school. “It worked. Now look where I am. I’m the Commander of the ISS. If you want to become an astronaut, keep your body in shape, make sure you get a good education and live your life based on the decisions that you make.”
Other questions ranged from asking about the noise levels in space to wondering about which time zone they use on the ISS, and always ended with “over.”
Travelling at a speed of 27,000 kilometres per hour at approximately 320 kilometres above the Earth, it becomes difficult to schedule a time to speak to Hadfield because his orbit is constantly changing.
To make the conference call possible, the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) volunteer program partners with other organizations and radio stations around the world.
Three ARISS members flew to Hay River to help with the call, which was more than a year in the making.
On May 1, a ground station in Australia was used because the ISS happened to be above that country.
With a smart phone in hand, ARISS Canada member Hunter McFarlane streamed the entire event live, which allowed people from around the world to watch and listen in real time.
Hadfield revealed that his crew wakes up every morning at 6 a.m., works all day, has supper together and goes to bed at 10:30 p.m. every night.
When the call’s connection began weakening and Hadfield’s voice wasn’t as clear, the Australian operator said there was time for one more question.
“Do you prefer to fly in space or in a jet,” a young student asked.
“In space,” Hadfield answered. “You feel like you’re free as a bird for months and months.”
Then, as the static became louder and louder, Hadfield’s connection was almost lost. The group of students and teachers, numbering in the hundreds, yelled a final goodbye.
“I thought it was interesting to learn about what they eat and how they go to the bathroom,” said Diamond Jenness student Tatsira Dryneck.
Students who had asked questions to Hadfield were invited to sign a giant poster, which will likely be featured one day at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.
Following the call, Hadfield’s youngest son Evan, who lives in Germany and helps his father manage his social media duties, said on Twitter that Diamond Jenness was the last school to participate in the calls before the astronaut’s scheduled return to Earth on May 13.
Hadfield has been on the ISS since Dec. 19, 2012, and will have spent just under five months there by the time his mission is finished.
— Myles Dolphin