A Skype Call From Space

A Skype Call From Space
Posted on 05/06/2022

A Skype Call from Space

Tahoma Students Video Chat with Astronaut Col. Raja Chari from International Space Station

As American astronaut Col. Raja Chari soared past Washington State at about 17,500 mph aboard the International Space Station (ISS), students on the earth below were huddled together in the Summit Trail Middle School library watching the projector screen in awe. On the screen was Col. Chari, video-conferencing in live from outer space, giving a demonstration of what daily life is like in microgravity and answering some truly thoughtful questions posed by the middle schoolers.

“When [Col. Chari] held a drop of water in his hand, it looked like Jell-O jiggling around,” said 7th-grader Max Peacock. “It was so fascinating to learn about something like living in space first-hand instead of just reading about it. This opportunity was truly incredible.”

Not every middle schooler gets the chance to video chat with an astronaut living on the ISS. At Tahoma, teachers and school leaders value going further than an exploration that’s an inch-deep and a mile-wide, so to speak. Diving deep into a topic involves connecting what students are learning in the classroom to real life. “This video call is one example of a ‘deep dive’ lesson that aims to spark passion and excitement in a particular topic,” said Summit Trail Middle School Principal Sean Cassidy. “We like to think of these opportunities as ‘post holes’ for students to build on as they move forward in their academic careers, and hopefully they will want to keep learning more and more.”

This special opportunity came about last year when now-7th-grader Avery Hertzke was a student in Mr. Vasili Andrews’ class at Summit Trail. They were studying Alan Weisman’s novel “Countdown” when Avery thought about her uncle, Col. Raja Chari. With Col. Chari’s airtight schedule, scheduling the video call through NASA was no easy feat. 

“There are so many logistical considerations when arranging a call like this one,” said Abbey Hertzke, Avery’s mom (and Col. Chari’s sister-in-law). “There are spots in the ISS’s orbit where satellite connections drop and reconnect to new satellites. Raja’s video feed has to go through NASA’s communications channels, and then be routed to our video call. There’s a lot that can go wrong.”

But aside from a couple of momentary signal losses, the event went off without a hitch, thanks to the careful planning and partnership between Mr. Andrews, Abbey and NASA.

Col. Chari guided students through his encapsulated living and working space, which is about the size of a 5-bedroom home and is shared among astronauts from five global organizations—NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). One of the tour’s highlights was when Col. Chari showed his favorite hangout spot on the station: the window. As he pointed his camera out the window, the Summit Trail library was silent with concentration and anticipation. On the screen appeared wrinkles and ridges of Earth’s crust as the ISS soared over the Andes Mountain Range in South America. A few seconds later, the tension broke and students oohed and aahed in amazement.


After the tour, students asked questions ranging from “what does it feel like to do a spacewalk?” to “has anything bad happened while you were on the ISS?” One student asked Col. Chari how living in space affects his mental health, to which he replied, “imagine being a baby learning how to live again. That’s what it’s like when you come up here.” He described the mental battle against the constant urge to eat and sleep, as well as a mental fog experienced by astronauts breathing in a higher level of CO2 than on Earth. 

He said that emotionally, it can get a little lonely out in space away from family and friends, but the ISS astronauts have each other and always have research projects that keep them busy. And if Col. Chari ever has a bad day, the ISS circles Earth every 90 minutes, so the next sunset is never longer than 45 minutes away.


For more information about Col. Raja Chari and the work he does with NASA, please visit: https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biographies/raja-chari

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