JERUSALEM – Ninth grade physics students at Hebrew University Secondary School (Leyada) in Jerusalem spoke with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, as he orbited the Earth aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, February 3.
The Israeli high school students were the recent winners of the Ilan Ramon Space Olympics hosted each year by the Ilan Ramon Foundation, established in honor of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Ramon perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster with six other American crew members, when the shuttle disintegrated reentering to earth 10 years ago.
Out of the 2,000 students from across Israel who participated in the Space Olympics, Leyada’s 19-member team won first prize, for building a space platform to repair satellites and constructing a guesthouse in space.
The first prize granted the winning students a chance to speak with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who recently spoke with public school students in Ontario. According to Leyada’s Reuben Tel-Dan, the proud physics teacher who oversaw the project, ” I believe that Leyada is the first school in Israel to communicate with space.”
The special event is part of NASA’s Teaching From Space Program, which gives schoolchildren the chance to ask questions and hear answers from astronauts living aboard the space station via Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). The contact is performed using the Amateur Radio telebridge network, a world-wide network of amateur radio ground stations that allow students to contact the space station, as it flies more than 200 miles above Earth.
Leyada students came prepared with a list of 20 questions for Hadfield, from everything about what life in space is like to homesickness and boredom. One of the ninth grade students, Ron, asked Hadfield where he slept more comfortably – on Earth or in the space station. Hadfield laughed, replying that ”sleeping in the space station is comfortable, but I sleep better at home with my wife.” Another student, Yoni wanted to know how astronauts distinguish between day and night in the space station. Hadfield explained that there were 16 sunrises a day, but the crew uses an alarm clock for their sleep routines.
Along with the physics team, over 200 Leyada students listened carefully to the audio conversation which took place at 11 am in the morning.
Although the weak signals cut the fascinating conversation short, for Ya’arit Segal, one of the student leaders of the project, the prize was worth the hours that she and her team spent on the project for the past three months. The ninth grader described many sleepless nights that she her teammates experienced creating their successful space project. ”We spent days and nights working on our project and the process had a huge impact on us,” she told Tazpit News Agency.
”I don’t know if I’ll be an astronaut someday,” concedes Segal. ”But it would be so interesting to conduct experiments in space and learn how to work together with a crew.”
Leyada’s principal, Dr. Gilead Amir, was especially impressed with the students’ initiative. ”Today was a great example for all of us, both students and teachers – in learning how school projects can directly impact our lives. Sometimes what we do at school can even lead to historical moments.”