Sunday afternoon, space shuttle Atlantis Pilot Barry E. Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin and Nicole Stott participated in an education event with students from kindergarten through college who were gathered at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tenn. Congressman Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, and university President Robert Bell also participated. Wilmore was born and raised in Tennessee and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from Tennessee Tech.
Congressman Gordon - A warm welcome from Earth, and everyone here at the campus of Tennessee Technological University. We have some students with tough questions for you.
Tennessee Tech (Scott Farley, 5th grader from Burks Middle School) - What is the most challenging part of using the robotic arm on shuttle?
Wilmore - Working the arm is very challenging. There are many antennas, cameras and items on the outside of the space station so you have to be careful not to impact anything. Leland and I have worked the arm a lot since we've been here. It takes teamwork, backing each other up to make sure no one makes a mistake. So far we're 100 percent.
Tennessee Tech (Corban Goad, 3rd grader from Stone Elementary) - How do plants grow in space?
Stott - We have a couple of plant experiments up here and I have been fortunate to cut some of them. They're little tiny flowers. What's really interesting to me is they grow up, the same as on Earth, but they also grow in all other directions too. It's cool to see. We have larger plants, willows, growing too. It's nice to have plants on station with us.
Tennessee Tech (Lindsay Lloyd, 10th grader from Cookeville High) - What some of pre-cautionary measures you have to take?
Melvin - Some of them are, when we're working the arm, we have to be sure we have good communications with those who are flying the arm and those who are on the arm. It's paramount have good communications to keep you from running anything. You need good communications and good teamwork.
Tennessee Tech (Steven Castellaw, TTU junior) - When you launch, people pay lots of attention to Max Q. What does it feel like to go through it and throttle down and back up?
Wilmore - It is a dynamic phase of flight. You have to throttle down to reduce the force on shuttle itself when you go through that. And you can feel it. We throttle about .8 mach down and then you really feel the thrust when they come back up. Launch was unbelievable. And Max Q was a dynamic part of that.
Tennessee Tech (Blayne Davidson, 5th grader from Burks Middle School) - Do magnets work in zero gravity?
Stott - Magnets work the same In space as on the ground. We use some strong magnets in some of our experiments. We have fluid with little metallic parts that generate colloids, and we use magnets to move the fluid around to see how it changes in space.
Tennessee Tech (Levi Deloach, 2nd grader from Sycamore Elementary) - Does your cell phone work up there?
Tennessee Tech (Kayla Smith, 7th grader from Rickman Elementary) - What advantages did you get from Tennessee Tech that helped you become an astronaut?
Wilmore - My high school Mt. Juliet and Tennessee Tech set the foundation for the rest of my life. At Tennessee Tech I played football and majored in electrical engineering. It was the toughest part of my life, but I learned that hard work is beneficial in the long run. Practicing and studying were tough, I spent a lot of time studying and I wouldn't be here 250 miles above Earth's surface if not for the lessons I learned there. I am eternally grateful for Tennessee Tech and the instructors I had there. Very thankful.
Tennessee Tech (Anna Grace Swift, 2nd grader from AH Roberts Elementary) - How many miles per hour doesn your spaceship go?
Melvin - The Space station and shuttle are traveling 17,500 miles per hour, which is about 5 miles a second. Very fast. Right now we're traveling backwards from how we usually travel so the space station can protect the shuttle. We call it -XVV.
Tennessee Tech (Jacob Summers, 5th grader from Defeated Elementary School) - If Earth is rotating, and the shuttle is traveling that fast, how can the shuttle find the landing strip?
Wilmore - Earth is spinning and the shuttle is going 17,500 miles an hour. So if we want to land at one point, we'll do a de-orbit burn on the opposite side of the globe. We use trigonometry and math to figure out how much the burn should be, and as we start to fall to the Earth, we lose altitude and it put us right there on a single runway. We use bank turns to slow down.
Tennessee Tech (Alyssa Clements, 12th grader from Clay Co. High)- Changes on your body going from weightless to normal?
Stott - I'm about to experience that in about a week. A big part, for a few months I've been floating around and have not needed to use my muscles to get places. You very quickly lose bone and muscle mass. I spend two hours exercising with weights and aerobics on a bike or treadmill to maintain bone and muscle mass. Hopefully that will help me as I get back. From my colleagues I've learned that recovery happens very quickly. And the trainers will put me through rigorous exercise - they'll pump me up. I look forward to walking on the planet again.
Tennessee Tech (Ankush Gupta, TTU electrical engineering graduate student) - Feel anything different when pass over mass concentrations?
Melvin - Mass concentrations are positive mass anomalies in the Earth's crust. We have some of them in Hawaii. When you travel 17,500 miles an hour you don't feel anything. Those positive gravitational pulls can influence you over time, but we don't feel anything.
Tennessee Tech (Liz Plant, 5th grader from Prescott Central Middle School) - Are your vitals the same on shuttle as on Earth? Any different during launch?
Wilmore - I felt confident in the training that prepared me for launch. My blood pressure maybe elevated a little bit and had a faster heart rate. But here on orbit we are in the same atmospheric pressure as on Earth, 14.7 pounds per square inch. So our blood pressure and heart rates are about the same. You get a little excited when doing arm work or other activities. But here in 14.7 psi there is no difference.
Tennessee Tech (Logan Sims, 4th grader, Northfield Elementary) - Can you see the moon phases change?
Stott - Yes, and it's beautiful. Our Japanese counterparts have an interesting investigation to take photos of the moon phases at different times of the month and we send them to Earth and they're mapping them to different musical scores. Each phase has a different note and they're making music out of it. It's cool to look at the moon. As it sets it looks like it's getting squished, it flattens out and is beautiful.
Tennessee Tech - (Jessica Randi Strong, 11th grader from Clay Co. High) - When you step outside, do you feel the temperature change on a spacewalk?
Melvin - I haven't been on one, but the EMUs - spacesuits - are like little spaceships that have controls to change the temperature if you need to make it warmer or cooler.
Tennessee Tech (Brittany Montooth, TTU sophomore) - Why does the shuttle fly upside down?
Wilmore - We fly upside down on launch, go vertical to get out of the thick part of the atmosphere, then turn tangential to gain speed. We start upside down for communications, so we can talk back to Florida. And then later we get right side up and bounce the communications off satellites. Once in orbit, we fly various attitudes, but are upside down mainly to see Earth. I wish we could take pictures that would do it justice but it can't be done.
Tennessee Tech (Kolby Wright, kindergarten student from Performance Learning Academy) - Does your hearing change in space?
Melvin - On Earth you need air molecules so sound gets pushed through them and you can hear. If you were out in space you wouldn't have them there. But here in the station we have them. It's pretty much like living in a home with the temperature 72 degrees, so you can talk and hear.
Tennessee Tech (Cierra Goolsby, 12th grader from Clay Co. High) - Do you get physically as tired in space?
Stott - Yes, I do. I think it's because I'm exercising two hours a day, and I don't usually do that on the ground. With the work we have to do, you're moving through station, and with the exercise, even though I'm not using muscles to move things, I still use them.
Tennessee Tech President Bell - Thank you all. Tennessee Tech University is very proud of you. Have a successful mission, Godspeed. Thank you.
Wilmore - Thank you Dr. Bell. Thank all of you for your support of human spaceflight. Go Tech. Go Eagles.