Monday, May 23, 2011

Kelly speaks to Tucson students

Schoolmates of a third-grader killed in the Arizona shooting that critically wounded Endeavour commander Mark Kelly's wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, quizzed Kelly and mission specialist Mike Fincke about life in space late Sunday.

Asked what inspired him to become an astronaut, Kelly said he was around the same age as 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green when TV images of Apollo moonwalkers set his sights on space.

"Over the last four months, I’ve come to admire your classmate, Christina Green, very much," said Kelly. "I’ve learned a lot about her. And when I was Christina’s age is when Apollo astronauts were first walking on the moon...I remember watching that on TV and thinking, you know, if I worked really, really hard in school, and focused and concentrated, that maybe some day I would have the opportunity to fly in space."

From Endeavour's flight deck Kelly, dressed in a red University of Arizona T-shirt and with Giffords' wedding ring floating on a band around his neck, showed about 400 students from Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson a copy of a yearbook he'd brought to space and promised to deliver to them with his crew's signatures. 

Communications cutouts peppered the event, including when Kelly explained how to become an astronaut.

"The best thing you can do ---" he began, before being cut off. A few seconds later the answer became clear: pay attention in school.

Kelly and Fincke explained that food doesn't taste great in space, that teeth are brushed just like on the ground but without running water, and that astronauts learn how to control their movements in microgravity.

Fincke said he hadn't seen anything too strange out the windows during the more than one year he's spent in space on several missions.

"I don’t think anyone up here has ever seen a UFO or an alien, but you know, we’re keeping our eyes open," he said.

The Endeavour crew woke up at 8:56 p.m. EDT Sunday and mostly has the day off while three International Space Station prepare to head home to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The undocking is scheduled around 5:30 p.m., after Kelly and his crew have gone to sleep to end Flight Day 8 of their mission.

It will be the first time a Soyuz leaves the station with a shuttle present. The departing Soyuz crew, including American Cady Coleman, will attempt to take historic pictures of the joined shuttle and station.

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