"Alpha this is HESTEC, how do you hear me," said NASA Associate Administrator for Higher Education Dr. Clifford Houston to Expedition 7 Astronauts Yuri Malenchenko and Edward T. Lu of the International Space Station.
"I hear you loud and clear," said Lu to an audience of more than 1,000 GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) students from across South Texas and more than 30,000 nationwide during the Math and Science Student Exploration Day at The University of Texas-Pan American Tuesday, Oct. 14.
During the question-and-answer session with the astronauts, more than a dozen students from area high schools had the opportunity to ask Malenchenko and Lu a question about their experience in space, their advice to students looking to go into the fields of science, aeronautics and engineering; and also asked what type of music they listen to while in space.
The youngest group of students at the session were Crockett Elementary second graders from McAllen, who won the "Ask the Astronaut A Question" Contest sponsored by KGBT-TV-Channel 4. The 17 students stood on stage while Alex Segura, class representative, asked Lu and Malenchenko, "Have you ever seen any aliens in space?"
"It would be amazing if we saw such a thing, it would be a tremendous thing if we were to see an alien, but thus far neither of us nor anyone else have seen one yet," Lu said with a laugh.
Leslie Griffith, Crockett Elementary second grade teacher, said her students were very excited when they heard they had won the contest and the chance to talk to the astronauts. She said in preparation for the event, the students studied about the space station.
"The class as a whole decided the question they wanted to ask," Griffith said. "It is unbelievable for them because they were just in awe. I don't think they realize the magnitude of what they are going to do."
Valerie De Leon, a second grade student who wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, said she was eager to talk to the astronauts and ask their question.
"I'm very excited today because me and my classmates are going to be talking to astronauts and we have been waiting for this day for a long time," De Leon said.
Michael Reyes of Weslaco East High School asked "without space exploration how would life be most changed today?"
"Space exploration has provided us with a realization of what is possible and the idea that a large number of people can work together and do incredible things and build a space station," Lu said. "I think that is an important lesson, especially for our kids, that there is unbelievable things that we can do and people have done and will continue to do."
Ralph Salazar of Valley View High School asked Lu if it is possible for the human race to survive on the planet Mars.
"As of right now it is a hostile environment because of the fact that there is low atmospheric pressure there and very little oxygen," Lu said. "In the future I think people will colonize Mars and eventually our humans will spread throughout the Solar System and Mars will be one of the places we live."
Houston said this is the last downlink for Malenchenko and Lu, who will be coming back to earth on Oct. 20.
"We hope that all students will take home the information they have learned today and share it with their classmates and hope that there is some spark of inspiration that will stimulate the young students to go further in their education and that is what NASA is all about," he said. "To be able to communicate with astronauts going 17,500 miles per hour and see that they can communicate just as if they were on the telephone, I think is very exciting for the students and I know they are going to get a lot out of this and this is something they are going to remember for a lifetime."