San Marino students' chat with astronauts is out of this world

San Marino

students who helped design a science experiment conducted in space participated Thursday in the video conference of a lifetime — a chat with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.


“My jaw kind of dropped a little bit with that first image of the astronaut floating upside down,” said San Marino High School 10th-grader Mark Liang. “It’s something you see in videos, but when it’s a live feed that’s really impressive.”

More than 100 students crowded around a screen for the Q-and-A with station Cmdr. Sunita Williams and astronaut Kevin Ford.


An experiment designed by Liang and other San Marino High School science prodigies recently arrived at the International Space Station to test how decreased gravity and exposure to radiation outside Earth’s atmosphere impact bacteria growth.

The team expects results later this month and then will run additional tests on the bacteria’s antibiotic resistance, school science department chair Wyeth Collo said.

Thursday’s chat with astronauts, broadcast via computer uplink coordinated by astronaut Leland Melvin at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, included several schools around the country. Students at each school had designed experiments under a program sponsored by Nanoracks, a company that builds specialized containers to carry experiments to the space station, and the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education.

San Marino High senior Jacqueline Truong asked the astronauts how space exploration contributed to solving earthly problems such as climate change.


Ford said development of solar power generators for the space station and future space vehicles advanced renewable energy technology while other work in space focused on tracking changes on the planet.

“Climate data, photos and other observations from space … [help us] to find out perhaps what kind of impact we’re having,” Ford said.

A student in Kansas asked the astronauts about the challenges of working without gravity.

“Your hair stands up whether you’re standing upside down or not,” joked Williams, who started the dialogue while in a headstand with a microphone floating in front of her.

The astronauts also discussed water recycling aboard the space station, training for medical emergencies in space and how they use email and the occasional video call to stay in touch with friends, family and pets.

The bacteria study is the second space experiment designed by San Marino High students. A similar experiment in 2011 did not yield conclusive results, Collo said. Students are developing concepts for a third experiment to reach the space station next year.

San Marino Supt. Loren Kleinrock and school board member Chris Norgaard also attended the extra-terrestrial dialogue.

“With [



Jet Propulsion Laboratory

] just up the road, it feels like we’re at the center of the universe,” Norgaard said.