Parkside Elementary School had a close encounter Friday of the educational kind.
Students at the Grant Park school made contact with the International Space Station, interviewing NASA astronaut Donald Pettit via amateur radio for about 10 minutes as the ISS' orbit had it passing over Mexico.
The program, known as the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, is designed to spark students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — Bejanae Kareem, a second grade teacher at Parkside, told East Atlanta Patch.
“We wanted them to experience and to learn more about space exploration, what life in space is like and to hopefully inspire some future scientists and astronauts,” Kareem said.
Parkside fourth and fifth graders interviewed astronaut Pettit, who has been aboard the ISS since Dec. 23. He is due to return in May.
Nine students, all special needs, were chosen, Kareem said, after being interviewed by teachers to explain why they should be the ones to ask questions of Pettit.
Students asked a broad array of questions ranging from the training required before going into outer space and if he was homesick to what space food was like and was the ISS big enough so astronauts didn't feel cramped.
The project follows Kareem and science lab instructor Ronnie Thomas’ participation last year in NASA’s Teaching From Space project, an initiative that helps give instructors real-life understanding and experience of an astronaut’s life.
The thinking is that through that experience, teachers will be able to give their students a richer understanding of space and space exploration, Kareem said.
Last year, Kareem and Thomas participated in the Reduced Gravity Education Flight week in Houston where they, along with teachers from Arizona, tested their students' hypotheses on the effects of bubbles in a reduced gravity environment aboard an aircraft that simulated zero or microgravity.
The childrens' interview with Pettit capped off a week of science-related activities — "NASA Week" — at the school the featured guest lecturers from , the 100 Black Men of Atlanta and the Georgia Tech Amateur Radio Club.
Parkside also has STEM-related clubs in robotics and rocketry. Fourth- and fifth-graders also have the opportunity to attend NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.