“All systems are go at Grey Mountain Primary, and the students are ready for flight.”
The radio crackled with static for a moment before an otherworldly voice echoed into the gymnasium.
“I copy loud and clear. Grey Mountain School in Yukon, Canada, this is Chris Hadfield. I’m ready for the first question, over.”
Ron McFadyen’s face lit up as he held the microphone forward for the first student to ask a question of Canada’s most famous spaceman.
Hadfield spent just over nine minutes in radio contact with the school from his perch on the International Space Station, 370 kilometres above the Earth.
Fifteen students asked a series of questions ranging from what it’s like to walk out the space station door to what Hadfield does with his spare time while he’s circling the planet at 28,000 kilometres per hour.
“How big is the space station, and do you have room to dance?” asked the first student.
“It’s about the size of five hockey rinks. It’s huge, it’s big enough that you can see it from Earth,” Hadfield replied.
“There is enough room to dance, but I need someone up here to dance with,” he said.
Nine-year-old Leandra Butler asked how Hadfield gets outside for space walks without wasting all the station’s oxygen.
“That’s a very difficult problem we had to solve,” Hadfield said. “We go into a room, and a very powerful pump pumps out all the air, and stores it in an oxygen tank. That way we only lose a little when we open the door,” he said.
Just asking the question made her nervous, Butler said, but she was excited to talk to someone in space.
“It felt kind of weird. It felt kind of funny and I had butterflies in my stomach,” she said.
The event was put together with help from the Yukon Amateur Radio Association and ARISS – Amateur Radio on the International Space Station – as well as the Canadian and U.S. space agencies.
McFadyen is the vice-president of the Yukon Amateur Radio Association. He helped arrange the call, which was routed via telephone lines to a ham radio station in Italy before being relayed to Hadfield on the ISS.
“It was spectacular,” McFadyen said.
“Worst case scenario it wouldn’t work at all. Second worst-case scenario is that of the 15 children, we’d get three. We had a standby plan. We had a spare ham radio outside in the hallway so the kids could talk to somebody.
“But we didn’t have to do that. This is beyond belief. The acquisition of signal to the loss of signal is a very short time, and these youngsters deserved a chance to speak to the commander. We got everyone, and we had 30 seconds left,” he said.
Grade 3 teacher Kier Hyde helped McFadyen emcee the event, complete with orange space jump suit. He said he was also a little nervous, especially about the questions the kids would ask, but it all went very well.
“I would have thought for a Grade 3 class, it would have been ‘Where does your poop go?’ and the obvious ones. But they were asking really deep things like ‘How plants would survive with varying light?’ and ‘How do you keep your water from freezing?’ I was really impressed,” Hyde said.
The radio chat with Hadfield was part of a two-week long space theme at the school. Even though only 15 students got to ask questions, others were involved making decorations, doing art projects, and building replica space capsules from recycled materials.
Hadfield answered every question with an earnestness and charm that’s earned him wide acclaim across the country, and even elicited a few laughs from the audience of around 100 students and parents. He spoke about seeing the Trans
Canada Highway from space, and how excited he is to come back to Earth in May.
“Canada is a beautiful, big country and I’m looking forward to getting home. Thank you for the great questions. This is what I dreamed of when I wanted to be an astronaut when I was nine years old,” he said as his voice faded to static.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org