Essay Contest Winners Make Contact with Astronaut Aboard the International Space Station

November 2017

In front of a packed house of proud parents, principals and other community members, a group of students lined up at a stage at the South Florida Science Center, anxiously awaiting their turn at asking an astronaut on board the International Space Station their questions.

The experience was the prize for the 2017 ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Radio) Competition at the Science Center.The winners edged out the more than 100 applicants who vied for the once in a lifetime chance to make the connection. The winners were selected based on their questions, grammar and spelling and the enthusiasm that their essays showed for the opportunity to connect via Ham Radio with Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who has been on board the ISS since July.

After a few attempts to make contact as a silent room sat perched in their seats, suddenly Nespoli could be heard over the radio, “Welcome to the International Space Station and congratulations to the students.”

There was a short eight-minute window while the ISS passed over Georgia and Florida 250 miles into space for the students to each ask their questions.  

“Buongiorno,” Josetta Wang, a fifth grader at Greenacres Elementary School said before she asked what the last thing Nespoli would do if he found out he suddenly had to leave the ISS and return home. Nespoli said that it would be a sad moment when he returns, but would “of course take a moment to look back at the Earth because it’s just incredible.”

Nespoli’s answer to Kamia Williams, a fifth grader at Glade View Elementary School, shared the enthusiasm of the students. Williams asked, “What is your favorite thing you do in space that feels different than on Earth?” “Walking,” Nespoli said. “I feel like I am Spider-Man up here!”

While his answer was met with laughter by the audience, Williams admitted that she was a little nervous before the students made contact. “But I am joyful and loved the way he responded,” she said. “For me, talking to someone way up here while I’m the whole way down here is just a great experience.” 

Williams said that the opportunity piqued her interest in space travel but also said that she may be a little too scared to fly in a rocket. “On the other half, I want to explore space,” she said. She’s also considering pursuing a career as an engineer or scientist in a lab.

Sparking the interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) – especially for girls – is a priority that Lew Crampton, President and CEO of the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium emphasized. “You can sense the exhilaration, wonder and discovery,” he said, hoping that this experience would ignite a passion to further study the careers in the STEM-related fields.

The Ham Radio operators at the event are part of a permanent fixture at the Museum, which hosts one of the largest Amature Radio groups in the country. On any given day they are making contact across the globe, but this out-of-this-world experience is one that will surely leave a lasting impression on these students and their families.

“And perhaps, who knows,” Crampton said, “One of these students by be so touched by this experience that they may one day fly in space or be a cog in the machine [to get there].”

The winners of the contest and their questions include:

  • Eli Fratello, a fourth grader at Manatee Elementary School:  What do you think the future of air travel will be?
  • Kamia Williams, fifth grader at Glade View Elementary School: What is your favorite thing to do in space that feels
    different than it does here on Earth?
  • Dishika Parikh, fifth grader at Elbridge Gale Elementary School: How easy or difficult is it for astronauts to adjust their
    body’s circadian rhythms knowing that it is always dark in space?
  • Josetta Wang, fifth grader at Greenacres Elementary School: If you had suddenly received orders to turn back to Earth,
    what would be the last thing you would do in space before you head back?
  • Nicholas Cruz, a fourth grader at Calusa Elementary School:  What experiment do you consider to be the one that has best helped us live better on Earth, or one that has helped out the most with space exploration?
  • Logan Roe, a fifth grader at Everglades Elementary School: Can we launch a rocket from space or from the moon to make it to Mars
  • Anthony Williams, a sixth grader at Roosevelt Middle School: How does an astronaut maneuver the rocket in space?

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium currently has a featured exhibit called “Astronaut: Your Journey Begins on Earth” that will run through April 2018. For more information on the exhibit, click here.



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