Students beam questions to space, get answers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 11, 2001

[04/11/01] Nine students at Vicksburg High School talked with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station Wednesday morning, capping planning and waiting that took several weeks.

“We finally did it,” said Eddie Pettis, organizer of the event and president of the Vicksburg Amateur Radio Club. “That’s the reason we promoted it we knew it was a good thing for the community.”

The contact, first scheduled for last Friday at 4:18 a.m., was delayed because the three members of the Expedition Two crew were too busy to talk. As the ISS passed over Hawaii at at just after 2 Wednesday morning, the voice of astronaut Susan Helms was transmitted from an amateur radio station at Sacred Heart Academy in Honolulu by telephone to VHS. The time here was 7:09 a.m.

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“I think it was worth the wait,” said Amanda Norris, a sophomore, who asked Helms if her perspective of life has changed since being in space.

Helms answered, “From the view up here, you can’t see the borders of countries. I have realized the earth is one resource for all people, and it’s affected my view of politics and other things.”

Of the 36 questions prepared by the students, Helms answered 18 of them candidly and with humor.

Christopher Withrow, a 6-foot-3 senior, asked Helms if there are height restrictions for being in the space program. Helms laughed and said, “Chris, you’ll be happy to hear the height restriction is 6 feet 4 inches.”

Another student, Jessica Pettis, a junior, asked if liftoff feels like a train wreck, and Terrence Carter, a senior, wanted to know how much money astronauts make.

“It’s quite a rock and roll experience,” Helms told Pettis.

To Carter, she said, “If you want to be rich, the astronaut business is not the place to be.”

About 50 spectators, including Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Donald Oakes, Mayor Robert Walker, parents and other school officials witnessed the contact Wednesday morning in the VHS library.

“This is incredible,” Walker told the crowd afterward. “They say, if at first you don’t succeed, try again.”

Ebony Berry, a junior who participated, agreed. “This is something I’ll never forget.”

VHS was the first high school in Mississippi to talk with the Expedition Two Crew of the ISS. Other students involved in the contact were sophomores Crystal Raner, Cameron Powers and William Hassell and senior Daniel Poole.