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tennessee technological university

TTU News

Published: Wed Oct 21, 2009

Students throughout the Upper Cumberland have more time to prepare questions to ask Atlantis space shuttle astronauts through Tennessee Tech University’s “Soaring Eagle Question Contest.”

Just as NASA pushed back its launch date by four days to Nov. 16, TTU is pushing back the contest deadline by four days to Oct. 29, says Sally Pardue, interim director of the Oakley Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The Oakley Center – an initiative to support the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields – sponsors the contest.

“We’ve already received 10 questions from college students and another 45 from students in grades K-12. I anticipate quite a few more will come in,” Pardue says.

The launch is especially significant for residents of the Upper Cumberland and for TTU. Alumnus Barry Wilmore (electrical engineering, ‘85, ‘94) will pilot the mission, which is NASA’s fifth shuttle launch of the year. The mission will return space station crewmember Nicole Stott to Earth. Atlantis also will deliver parts to the space station, including a spare gyroscope. The mission features three spacewalks.

Contest winners will ask questions via a live NASA education downlink on TTU’s campus scheduled for Nov. 22.

Wilmore was jubilant about the mission in an interview with NASA officials held Tuesday during a launch dress rehearsal at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“I can’t begin to put into words how it feels,” he said. “How exciting it was to fly by yesterday, look down and see Atlantis on the pad…We’re proud to be the folks to sit on the pointy end of it and get to launch on it.”

The Soaring Eagle Question Contest divides students into four age groups. Five winners will be chosen from each group: kindergarten to fourth grade, fifth grade to eighth grade, ninth to 12th grade and college.

TTU students majoring in any subject are encouraged to submit questions. The 20 winners will sit on stage in TTU’s Nursing and Health Services Building and ask their questions directly to the astronauts via a live video feed. An additional 100 students will be invited to be members of the audience, 25 from each age group; with one adult accompanying each K-12 student.

Entries can be submitted online.

As with any shuttle launch, delays may affect the date of liftoff. In the event the launch date is moved back, the downlink will be delayed as well. Notification will be made about any changes in the schedule.

On the day of the event, the space station downlink and the student interaction with the astronauts will be broadcast live on WCTE-TV, the local PBS station (channel 10 on Charter cable, 22 on Dish/Direct/antenna or on the second digital channel of any state-wide public television station). Details of the broadcast will be available on or