The coolest way to eat an M&M or to take a yearbook and flip it around in the air is to do it in space, according to the kids at Mesa Verde Elementary School.

The students had the rare opportunity Sunday night to speak to astronauts serving on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Slightly before 8 p.m., Sunday night NASA connected the school with a live video feed of Commander Mark Kelly and Mission Specialist Mike Fincke floating in the shuttle. The two astronauts occasionally would eat an M&M floating in front of them or take the Mesa Verde Elementary School’s yearbook and spin it in the air as it hovered weightlessly.

Kelly told the students he would get a picture of the yearbook with Earth in the background and would have the crew sign it before returning it to the school.

The special opportunity for the Northwest school came on the heals of Kelly’s specific request to do the event with the school, due to its connection with his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the late Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest victim of the Jan. 8 shooting and a Mesa Verde student.

Before the event started, some kids who were selected to talk with the astronauts had mixed emotions.

Eight-year-old Tiffany Allmark was excited to get to ask an astronaut a question and to see them in space. Eleven-year-old Braden Matsuzawa was really enthused about asking his question, but noted, “it’s like, really nerve-racking to be asking a question to an astronaut.”

Questions ranged from, “Why do you need a complete spacesuit and not just a helmet?,” which was asked by first-grader Ashely Drake, to “What is the most exciting or interesting thing you have seen in space?,” which was asked by fourth-grader Katie Sutherland.

Mesa Verde Principal Foster Hepler held the microphone and a sheet with the students’ questions as each one made it to the front of the school’s multi-purpose room, which was only open to the students and faculty. Parents filled the courtyard just outside the MPR to watch the live feed on a projection screen.

“It was obviously an opportunity of a lifetime,” Hepler said Monday afternoon. “We were very honored that we were selected, and it was certainly a wonderful, wonderful opportunity and experience for the kids at Mesa Verde.”

The plans for the event at the school started forming in February. They led up to a NASA Family Space Night kickoff party held April 28 at the school, where the kids had different stations to go to along with passports they could fill out as they completed the stations. The downlink was expected to be the following week, but the shuttle launch delays postponed the downlink as well.

“I really don’t know how I would put it into words,” Hepler said. “We understand that obviously the children at this age in elementary school don’t truly understand the significance of it right now, but certainly, our hope is when they are adults and hopefully have children of their own, we are sure this will be talked about as part of a historical second-to-last space shuttle flight.”

For now, the kids received bags with pins, pictures of the shuttle and crew from NASA, and T-shirts with the NASA emblem that were paid for by an anonymous donor.


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