On the very same day that Mission X’s mascot Astro Charlie reached the moon, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti reached out to children from the International Space Station (ISS), her outpost in space. Hundreds of students aged 8 to 12 gathered in 3 locations on Earth for an inflight call with Samantha. They connected with her from the Muse Science Museum in Trento, Italy; ESA/ESAC with Universidad Politecnica de Madrid in Spain, and the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, Austria.
All the children selected to participate in the special Mission X inflight call event were involved in educational activities throughout the day. Three European astronauts participated in the event: Paolo Nespoli in Muse, Pedro Duque in ESAC, and Franz Viehböck in the Natural History Museum. Children in Italy were taught about healthy eating in space during a space food workshop. In Vienna students had a chance to participate in a planetarium show and attend science lectures. At ESAC, children visited the large diameter antennas and learned about many of ESA’s science missions.
The inflight call with Samantha was anticipated by a short welcoming presentation from each venue, the highlight of which was the kind donation of the original Sokol suit Franz Viehböck used during his Austromir mission in 1991 to the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.
After a few nail-biting minutes of standby for Houston Mission Control to start the event, students from Madrid, Trento and Vienna finally caught a glimpse of Samantha floating in the Columbus module of the International Space Station.
One by one the young students asked their questions in English, a language unfamiliar to most. Samantha answered as many questions as she could in the brief 20 minute video call.
Repercussions of being cooped up in a station for 6 months featured highly on the students’ minds as they asked Samantha if she had undergone special psychological training, and whether the crew ever quarrelled “like we do in school sometimes”. ‘Mission X Train like an Astronaut’- flavoured questions were of course also part of the event, with students wanting to know more about how food tastes in space, why food is dehydrated, and what exercising in microgravity is like.
Many questions were answered, and numerous happy faces lit up each venue as Samantha waved goodbye to all the students before resuming her normal working duties. It is evident that human spaceflight and the International Space Station continue to inspire the young generations. ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is an ideal ambassador to attract children, even from such a young age, into considering scientific and engineering academic paths.
Mimi, a young girl from Vienna, exemplified this by saying “I really love space and Mission X was the greatest project I ever experienced so far. I was so excited to see Samantha [on] the space station telling us about her work and life up there. Maybe I can fly into space myself in the future.”
Even more important in sculpting our children’s future is the support of their teachers. Angela Donini, a teacher of math and science present in Trento, said “The day has been extraordinary, especially the call with Samantha Cristoforetti. I saw the students very enthusiastic and they were very emotional about being able to speak with Samantha in space [..] Maybe some of these students will eventually become colleagues of Samantha Cristoforetti.”