Dearborn students talk to astronaut in space

Leah Borst
Special to The Detroit News

Dearborn Heights — Just as the International Space Station passed overhead, Dearborn Public Schools third-grader Stavros Stylianou asked a question of an astronaut aboard.

“What do you do if you ever get ill or hurt? Over,” the 8-year-old asked Tuesday.

“Luckily, we have medical supplies here. I’m also trained so if anyone gets sick, I’m able to help. Over,” NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren answered through a fuzzy radio connection from high above the Earth.

Stylianou was one of 18 Dearborn Public Schools students selected to participate in the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station program, where students were able to talk with Lindgren during a scheduled time.

As Larry Koziel, a volunteer with Amateur Radio, tried to reach the space station by radio, the students — ranging from first to eighth grade — and some parents lined the lecture hall at Berry Career Center. Each held a prepared question.

“I’m really excited to be talking with Dearborn Public Schools students,” Lindgren said as he fielded questions from the students, ranging from “How do you brush your teeth?” to “What are the side affects when you return to Earth?”

Dearborn was one of 15 schools across the country to participate. A district in Grand Rapids was the only other in Michigan that took part earlier this month.

NASA, the American Radio Relay League and the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation created the program to promote learning opportunities as part of the science, technology, education and math initiative.

Dearborn Schools STEM coordinator Mary Varady had been working with ARISS and local amateur radio operators for nearly a year to arrange the event. She had learned of the program from the district’s media technology specialist, Gordon Scannell, who is an amateur radio operator.

Varady received more than 2,000 questions from students and a school district committee narrowed it down to 18. Before Tuesday’s conversation, Amateur Radio volunteers spent hours arranging the technical details, including installing a large temporary antenna on the roof of the Berry Center.

“It was such an amazing opportunity for the students to take part first-hand in a STEM activity and talk with an astronaut,” Varady said. “We are so glad we were able to have this for the students. They were so proud of their questions. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Lindgren, a U.S. astronaut, is one of six aboard the International Space Station.

During the questions, Lindgren shared that he had just completed one of two space walks scheduled during the expedition and he sees 16 sunrises and sunsets in a day. One student asked what one of the most successful experiments was.

“Well, my favorite one was working on a veggie experiment where we actually got to grow food up here,” Lindgren answered. “I actually grew lettuce, so I turned it into a cheeseburger.”

In less than 10 minutes, almost all the students had asked their questions before the connection was lost.

Eighth grader Ibrahim Ahmad was the last to ask a question. “Is there a way that the space rocket ship could ... reduce the amount of energy they could use?” Although Lindgren’s answer was difficult to hear, Ahmad was still beaming with gratitude after the interaction.

“It was so exciting to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “It was so cool to speak with an astronaut live. I just want to thank everyone who put this together. They all worked really hard and I’m so thankful.”

Leah Borst is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

For information

■ARISS program, go to

■Amateur Radio, go to