Science and Technology News

Monday, September 29, 2014

Space, the final frontier: RAF Alconbury hosts video conference with NASA astronaut

by Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton
501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs


9/23/2014 - RAF ALCONBURY, United Kingdom -- From education and training to future missions to Mars and even possible contact with extraterrestrials, students from the elementary, middle and high schools at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, asked questions and chatted with a NASA astronaut during a virtual conference, Sept. 23.

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins joined up with students, parents and teachers for an in-depth look at what life in space is really like, as well as what it takes to be an astronaut.

"It's really a pleasure to talk with you all today," Hopkins said via webcam from Johnson Space Center, Houston. "There are just so many great stories about spaceflight. I'm honored I get to share some with you."

During the conference, Hopkins shared unique insights and experiences from his time on board the International Space Station.

"Space is an amazing environment," he said. "It makes the impossible, possible."

However, Hopkins continued, while lifting heavy objects could be done with relative ease, simple tasks like shaving required much more concentration and precision. Students sat, transfixed, as Hopkins answered question after question for more than an hour.

"I thought it was really cool," said Robin Dudley, seventh grade student at Alconbury Middle School. "I've never gotten the chance to talk to an astronaut. I learned so much about what it was like to live in space and take care of yourself in zero gravity."

According to Hopkins, the feeling of absolute freedom while weightlessly suspended in orbit around Earth was an experience he will treasure for the rest of his life.

"The spacewalk was probably the highlight of my entire time up there," Hopkins said. "To see the Earth without any obstructions really takes your breath away."

Hopkins, who achieved international notoriety when he posted a "selfie" from space, also shared photos and videos with the students in an effort to educate and motivate them.

"These children now have an experience they will never forget," said Heather Dudley, 423rd Air Base Group school liaison officer and Robin's mother. "We want them to look at this event and come away feeling inspired."

Inspiration was also a major part of Hopkins' focus with the students. Through the video conference, he was able to balance the science of spaceflight with the awe of travel beyond Earth and his own personal passion for life as an astronaut.

"My goal is to continue doing this for as long as they will send me up into space," he said. "But, one day, I hope I am sitting in a retirement community listening to you tell stories about being an astronaut and exploring space. Who knows, maybe one of you will be the first person to set foot on Mars."

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