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LCSS talks space, environment and food with astronaut aboard the ISS
Liberty County School Students engage in numerous activities during the school’s NASA Day on Monday. - photo by Lainey Standiford

Greeted by 135 students and 90 faculty, staff and VIPs, the NASA Day at Liberty County Board of Education did not disappoint. Liberty County School System held an out-of-this-world opportunity to speak with an astronaut on the International Space Station Sept. 17 for a handful of lucky students district-wide.

Once guests and students were seated, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Zheadric Barbra welcomed everyone to the event. Barbra echoed the sentiments of all faculty and staff when he said what a great day it shaped up to be. He recognized Becky Busby, gifted and talented teacher at Frank Long Elementary School, who coordinated the event.

“We want to give her a thunderous round of applause, because without her, we would not be here today,” Barbra said. Busby was instrumental during the application process, working tirelessly through her connections to secure an opportunity for LCSS. The downlink is a rare chance, according to Busby, with only 60 applicants being selected to participate. 

Barbra continued, expressing how excited everyone was. He finished by saying “if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars,” an encouragement to the students to push boundaries and excel in school.

Hinesville Chick-fil-A owner and operator Nick Westbrook was the keynote speaker of the event. He shared the story of Chick-fil-A’s humble beginnings, comparing it to that of an astronaut’s.

“An astronaut does not get into space on accident,” Westbrook said. “Everything you do matters. They were sitting in a classroom, similar to what you guys do every day, and dreaming about what they would do.”

He left the students with the advice that it’s not always easy to accomplish things alone. Teamwork is invaluable, Westbrook said. U.S Representative Buddy Carter followed Westbrook as the guest speaker, and the speech was short and sweet.

“You are the future of this country,” Carter said. “I’m so excited about the future, and about the limitless opportunities we have in space… how phenomenal is that?”

Carter expressed to the students that this is something to remember throughout their life. He continued by thanking everyone that had a role in making the NASA Downlink happen, and finished by saying that these students are the future of mankind.

A Year of Education on Station, which is the premise of the entire event, is NASA’s way of celebrating astronauts and former teachers making the ISS their home, according to Ricky Arnold, the astronaut currently on station, is a former Oceanographic Technician for U.S. Naval Academy, and former teacher that has taught math and science in places including: Maryland, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Romania, according to his biography.

Arnold was selected as a NASA Mission Specialist in 2004. In 2006, he completed his Astronaut Candidate training, including intensive instruction and briefings. Since then, he has traveled on one other space expedition prior to his current mission. He is serving on Expedition 55 that launched to ISS in March 2018.

By 2:30 p.m., the downlink was five minutes away from starting, and students were anxiously fidgeting on the floor, waiting to see Arnold appear on screen. Busby, who gave instructions to the students on required behaviors, said a few words before it started.

“The premise for this event, the catalyst, was our military,” Busby said. “We are so excited for this partnership.” Busby recognized both active and retired service members in attendance, including her father.

“I know how it is to move,” she said. “What it’s like to make new friends. But regardless, we’re beyond excited.”

By 2:35, Arnold was onscreen, and LCSS had connected to the ISS and began the downlink. A total of 18 students asked Arnold questions during the 20 minute conversation. Each student that asked a question had a connection to the military through either retired family members or those currently serving.

“We want to showcase the partnership that we share with the United States Army at Fort Stewart,” Busby said. “All of the students asking questions today have family members currently serving in the Armed Forces. Many of them are currently deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and South Korea. The deployed family members will be watching live on NASA TV.”

One student asked “What’s your favorite thing about being an astronaut?” Arnold’s specific response was the people he works with.

“The people I work with, by far,” Arnold said. “That’s my favorite thing. I’m up here on the International Space Station with some amazing people. There’s amazing people all around the world that make this whole endeavor possible. Being a part of something bigger than myself, serving a higher purpose, I get a great deal of satisfaction being one of the lucky human beings that gets to come up to the ISS.”

Another student asked Arnold what his favorite experience was while working to be an astronaut.

“Far and away was learning to fly airplanes,” Arnold said. “That was the favorite training experience I had. It’s something I hadn’t considered doing when I was younger. Having the opportunity to get into an airplane, learn how it works and to operate it was an absolute thrill.”

Another student asked about the comparison of plant growth on Earth versus plant growth in microgravity. Arnold said that plants are grown in a similar fashion as Earth, but since water and soil are a much harder element to work with in space, the focus tends to remain on light as a major source.

“We provide light through LED lights,” he said. “We can’t pour water on plants, but the habitat used has special ways to get water to the plants. The same with nutrients, we don’t really use soil because it’s hard to keep it contained. We focus on those things, but the main driving force for plants here is light.”

According to Arnold, the plants grow similar to those on Earth, except that they don’t have to deal with gravity. The stems may form a bit differently, he said, but it remains mostly the same.

The downlink concluded at 2:55 p.m., with Arnold thanking those service members in attendance for their service, and all that is done to serve our nation and those around the world.

After the conversation, students from elementary, middle and high schools broke into separate groups to participate in activities related to space. Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry walked around observing the students, smiling at the interest and fascination on each students face.

“Our motto is ‘Excellence in Everything,’” Perry said. “This is just another way to expose our students to excellence, which will make them well-rounded people in the future.”

For those who were unable to attend, the video is located on NASA’s YouTube, under the NASA Video page. The title of the video is Expedition 56 Education Interview with Liberty County School District- Sept 17, 2018.

Coastal Courier videographer Lawrence Dorsey’s video of the event is posted on the Courier website.

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