NASA EDGE travels to Belgium for the Mission X 2014 International Closing Event. Special guests include European Space Agency Astronaut Frank De Winne, Mission X Students and more.
CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.
BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.
CHRIS: We’re at the Euro Space Center in southern Belgium for Mission-X 2014.
BLAIR: The international closing event, where even as we speak, kids from around the world are gathering to engage in some pretty exciting activities about space.
CHRIS: They’ve worked so hard for the Mission-X activities this past school year and there coming here to Euro Space Center to try out some mission simulations.
BLAIR: They’ve covered the physical and nutritional aspects throughout the year during Mission-X. Now, we’ll see how things have paid off.
CHRIS: We’re going to get a chance to work with some of the students, get up close and personal with them, see how the activities are going.
BLAIR: Yeah. And actually see whether or not they’re going to be able to launch a rocket here at the end of the ceremony.
CHRIS: And we have a chance to talk with ESA astronaut, Frank De Winne, and a representative from the Euro Space Center.
BLAIR: I hope astronaut, Frank De Winne, can put in a plug for me in the astronaut program. Maybe I can be the first international sort of medianaut.
CHRIS: Let’s go check out the activities.
VOICE: All systems are nominal. Atlantis, you are a go to start all APUs in order.
STUDENT: Thank you.
VOICE: You’re welcome.
CHRIS: We’re here with Freya from Manchester, England kicking off the events at Mission-X 2014. What is this contraption behind me?
FREYA: A three axis-spinning machine; you sit in it and like uncontrolled spinning.
CHRIS: Tell us what it was like being in that chair.
FREYA: It was amazing but it was very unusual.
CHRIS: How does this particular machine help astronauts prepare to go into space?
FREYA: When they launch with the rocket, it’s like spinning. So, you are just completely spinning inside and you have to prepare yourself.
CHRIS: I notice you have a piece of paper in your hand. You had to do something while you were spinning around. What did you have to do?
FREYA: I had to draw around the dotted lines with a crayon. I’ve got to try to stay on the lines as neatly as possible. It was very difficult.
CHRIS: Well, it looks to me that you did a pretty good job drawing the line around the square there. That’s pretty good.
FREYA: Yeah, the square was easier compared to the cross. I did the square first but I think as I got into the cross it kind of moved faster. So, it was more difficult.
CHRIS: You’ve been here since yesterday. What do you think about Mission-X so far?
FREYA: Oh, it’s great. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s like the next level from the school.
CHRIS: Up next, we have the rotating chair. Are you ready for that?
FREYA: I’m very nervous to be honest. I’m looking forward to it though.
STUDENT 1: Dutch stew.
CHRIS: It seemed like you were actually going pretty slow in the chair.
FREYA: Whenever you spin, you think oh my god, it’s so slow but when you get on it’s really fast.
CHRIS: Is this something you could do all the time?
FREYA: I think if I went on for any longer I would have felt a bit queasy. Well, probably five seconds is fine.
CHRIS: After you opened your eyes, you were looking at the shuttle. What did you see once you opened your eyes?
FREYA: The nose of the shuttle showed like twins then it took forever for them to get back together again.
CHRIS: After you got off the rotational chair, you had another challenge where you had to sit down and actually use a mirror to go through a maze with a pencil?
FREYA: Yeah, he put the maze on the surface and then you put a ledge. There was a mirror. Looking at the mirror only you had to try to get through the maze. Mine, as you can see, really didn’t work. Scribbles all over the place,
CHRIS: It doesn’t look too bad. It looks like an EKG but you went through the maze, no problem.
FREYA: I wouldn’t say, no problem, but, yeah.
CHRIS: What was the purpose of doing this exercise?
FREYA: After being on something that spins you around, you’re really dizzy and straight away you try and do something backwards. It is just tremendous difficulty. It is like two dizzies and it’s just impossible almost.
CHRIS: While you recover from the rotating chair and get ready for the gravity wall, which I think you’re really interesting in doing?
FREYA: Oh, it’s my favorite one. It’s the one I’m most looking forward to.
CHRIS: We’re going to learn more about the Euro Space Center. This is one of the few space camps around the world and the only one in Europe. We had a chance to talk with Catherine, who’s the marketing manager. Let’s take a look.
CHRIS: Tell me about the Euro Space Center.
CATHERINE: Euro Space Center is an educational and career center about space. It’s the only place in Europe where people can train as astronauts. Actually, we welcome people from the whole world to visit and experience the astronaut simulators we have at the Euro Space Center.
CHRIS: This is very similar to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama?
CATHERINE: Yes, it is. We have basically the same simulators they do in America; Alabama. We had the American license when we opened the center in 1991, but now, we have developed our own activities. We still keep on working with NASA, ESA to try to improve the programs.
CHRIS: How many kids usually roll through this center each year?
CATHERINE: We had more than 15,000 kids every year that run through the Euro Space Center. Some kids come for a 1-day program; some come for 5 or 6 day programs but they all experience and enjoy space.
CHRIS: Is it mainly students from Belgium or are they coming from all over Europe?
CATHERINE: No, no, no. We get students from all over Europe but also from China, India, Israel. We get people from all around the world.
CHRIS: With all of the students from all different countries around the world coming to the Space Center, how do you deal with all the different languages?
CATHERINE: Actually, we have a multilingual team. So, we work in the French, Dutch, German, and English and even in Italian with some groups. We are pleased to be able to welcome groups from 27 nationalities every year.
CHRIS: Do you ever get students from the United States to come?
CATHERINE: Not yet.
CATHERINE: No, because you have the Alabama Space Center so most of these stay in the country.
CHRIS: Students that come to the Euro Space Center here, is this supplemental to their curriculum in school?
CATHERINE: Yes, most students have to study astronomy or space as part of the curriculum. The Euro Space Center is a complimentary tool to teachers and to schools. It’s another way of learning Sciences in a fun way.
PIERRE: When I stop, what happens? While you are spinning the liquid is spinning in your inner ear. When I stop you, look what happens.
STUDENT: It’s still spinning.
PIERRE: They keep spinning. The body stopped and you will be the victim of nystagmus. Nystagmus is not Harry Potter’s friend. Nystagmus is the phenomenon in which your eyes go like this. Very fast, at first, because it tries to make you spin but your not extraterrestrial, so your eyes cannot make a full spin, of course, I hope for you.
CATHERINE: We don’t want & we don’t intend to replace teachers nor schools but we want to be an encouragement to them.
CHRIS: Do you ever get a chance to have some ESA astronauts come by and tour the facility?
CATHERINE: Yeah, we regularly have a visit from the astronaut corps. We’re going to have Frank De Winne tomorrow to meet the children. So yes, we do appreciate when we have astronauts who visit Euro Space Center. It’s a great value to children who can meet real astronauts and understand better what space is about.
CHRIS: That’s a great segue for the astronaut coming here tomorrow because he’s going to be part of the Mission-X program. How did Euro Space Center get involved in Mission-X?
CATHERINE: We have all the facilities to host such an event. We have the accommodations, the space activities, the catering. It’s a real all-in complex that makes it easy for kids to experience space. It’s very easy and more over, Euro Space Center is very unique in Europe. It’s the only place where the kids and children would be able to train as astronauts.
CHRIS: The cool thing about this facility, just like Space Camp in Huntsville, is that the kids can actually stay her on site for the week.
CATHERINE: Indeed we do have 200 beds divided into sleeping rooms. They also have access to a restaurant, playgrounds and to the space activities inside.
CHRIS: We noticed there’s a lot of construction going on.
CATHERINE: Yeah, we are expanding the center. We started with the old side of the Space Center. The projects are to develop new rooms for the Space Center, meeting rooms, sleeping rooms because we lack space for the space program. And more over, they are going to develop new buildings for corporate and companies that want to work in the space sector.
CHRIS: This is the perfect facility to house Mission-X 2014. We thank you so much for offering the students to come here this year. We’re looking forward to a great event.
STUDENT: We confirm APU prestart complete. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 start.
BLAIR: So Nandu, as I understand it you just participated in one of the activities, the mission simulation, which takes place either in this full scale mock-up or the motion simulator. Tell me, what was your role in the mission simulation?
NANDU: I was the ELSS, which stands for the Environmental Life Space System.
BLAIR: What did you do throughout the mission?
NANDU: I was checking the things which would need to keep the crew safe, for instance, oxygen tank, which they would need when they got to space, and that they had enough fuel.
BLAIR: As I understand it, in these simulations things would go wrong. What kind of things did you encounter when you were in the simulation?
NANDU: One day we were going to open the hatch to get into the Space Station. The oxygen pressurization got lower so we needed to change that. In the middle of the mission when they were about to dock, the fuel cells turned off.
BLAIR: That doesn’t sound good.
NANDU: It wasn’t very nice.
BLAIR: How did you handle these problems? What did you do to solve them?
NANDU: The fuel cells, we turned them off and turned them back on with a new supply of fuel. For the oxygen tank, I had to hand it over to the flight director, who was in charge of changing the oxygen tanks.
BLAIR: Sounds like you had a pretty intense experience here with Mission X.
NANDU: It was certainly an intense two hours.
BLAIR: Do you feel like you’re ready to go on a space mission? Do you feel like you’re prepared now?
NANDU: I would feel like I’m not be fully prepared to go into space but feel that I’m more prepared than I was.
BLAIR: Awesome. That’s exactly what these experiences are designed to do. Are you planning, in the future, to be involved with space, somehow, professionally?
NANDU: Since I was five, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, which would mean I’m making the space shuttles, things like that. So, in a way I would be connected to space.
BLAIR: I know you’re interested in space but it turns out that I spoke to your mom earlier. She mentioned you use to have a nickname or that you showed an interest in space very early on. Tell us about that.
NANDU: When I was one and started to go to nursery or kindergarten for other people, I was nicknamed the space encyclopedia because my favorite topic was space. Whenever someone would start talking about space, I’d go into my whole lecture.
BLAIR: Oh, interesting. That’s awesome. I tell you what, while we go hear from astronaut Frank De Winne, we can go on a little lecture tour here and maybe talk to some of the other students as well.
BLAIR: Frank, you spent a tremendous amount of time in space but I wanted to know how did you become interested in space and becoming an astronaut?
FRANK: When I was young I was always interested in technology and things that were moving, how things were working. My parents always told me when we bought you a toy, you immediately had to get it open and then see how it would work inside. Then, of course, when I was a little bit older, I also wanted to fly as a pilot. I could become a pilot in the Belgium Air Force, connecting, of course, flying together with technology and you come into space. This is how I really wanted to become an astronaut.
BLAIR: So, you became an astronaut and then you’ve been in space almost 200 days? What’s it like spending an extended period of time in space.
FRANK: It’s, of course, very nice to spend a long time in space. When you do a short mission, you just get there; you just get acclimated to the new environment and everything you need to do and it’s almost like you have to go back home. If you’re there for a longer time, you can really profit off space. You can really learn how the Space Station works, learn the best in direct with the crew on the ground, enjoy our beautiful planet from above, also see how wonderful our planet is, see all the different phenomenon, see all the different seasons over the planet. It’s really a great time to be there for an extended period of time being able to do a lot of science at the International Space Station.
BLAIR: That’s interesting because we’re right here in the Euro Space Center seeing all kinds of images and pictures that have been gathered from space. Did you take a lot of pictures when you were up on station?
FRANK: Yes, we took a lot of pictures with our crew when we were up on the Space Station. Of course, we have some really beautiful ones. You also see the power of nature. I would take pictures of hurricanes from above. We saw some massive forest fires for example. Overall, it’s a wonderful planet. It’s a great, beautiful planet that we live on here but extremely vulnerable. That is what we see as well.
BLAIR: We’re you the first non-US commander of the International Space Center? Is that correct?
FRANK: Yes, I was the first non-US, non-Russian commander of the Space Station, because, of course, in the assembly phase, mostly the Space Station was there with a permanent crew of US and Russian cosmonauts and astronauts. But once we went to a six-person crew is when my crew arrived, then we started into the utilization phase and the exploration phase. Now, there are six people permanent on board of the International Space Station. It’s also when the smaller partners, Canada, Europe, and JAXA, started acquiring rights to fly long duration space missions to the International Space Station. With those rights also came the capability that we could have commanders. Of course, I was the first but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that this partnership shows that although we are small partners we are all in this together. We have had in the mean time a Canadian commander. We had Koichi, Wakata, who was a great first Japanese commander. We will continue to have other commanders from all over the world. That is the most important thing.
BLAIR: What does a commander on the ISS do? Do you get a bigger sleeping area or nice amenities?
FRANK: The commander gets better food. No, I’m joking. We all have the same food on the Space Station. Of course the real boss of the Space Station sits on the ground. This is the flight director or mission director in Mission Control. As a commander, you are responsible on board to make sure there is a good mood on board of the Space Station, that everybody can work to the best of their abilities, that everything is running smoothly on the Space Station. You work with your crew to create an environment as a crew together, we can accomplish all of our tasks every single day. This is the responsibility of the commander. Of course, there is one exception. In case of emergencies, it is clear. If there is a fire on Space Station, someone needs to take control. It is difficult to take control for a fire on board of Space Station when you are sitting on the ground. In this type of situations, in emergencies, automatically the authority is transferred to the commander of the spaceship. Then, of course, you have real authority, and then you have real work to do.
BLAIR: Obviously, there were no fires while you were commander?
FRANK: There were no real fires but we had some smoke. We had some decompressed cases that were false alarms. We had false fire alarms. These things always happen when you are in space. Systems are not infallible. Of course, when you have all these detectors to measure all of this, the detectors will fail from time to time and then you will get a false alarm. You go through all the books, through all the routines. Luckily you see there is no real fire, so let’s wave this off and go back to our normal work.
BLAIR: It must be very exciting to live up in space. Hopefully, a lot of the kids that we’re working with may be people that spend an extended time in space. I’m wondering what do you tell kids that are interested in space? How do you encourage them to become not just an astronaut, maybe a commander on the ISS someday?
FRANK: Maybe a commander of a space vehicle to Mars or of a moon base. Who knows? But what is really important for the kids is first of all you have to stay healthy. Astronauts have to be healthy human beings that can work and live in space. That means taking care of what you eat, doing exercise, having a healthy life style. This is, of course, is a lot of what Mission-X is all about. Secondly, you need to study. We need scientists. We need engineers. We need test pilots. We need medical doctors in space. So, it’s also very important to get a good education. But most importantly of all, if you really want to become an astronaut, you have to believe in it because it’s a long way. I wanted to become an astronaut when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. I did my first selection where I was not taken. I was put in the recruitment reserve then I was taken only 10 years later, and then I flew another 5 years later. It’s a very long time that you need to stay motivated and you say, yes, I really want to achieve this. Every step that you do in your career, in your work needs to be oriented to maybe one day I can reach that goal.
CHRIS: Would you like to be an astronaut like Frank De Winne?
MERLIN: Yeah, I would. It would be very exciting and I would like to be out in space. Yeah.
CHRIS: What do you think it would be like being in space?
MERLIN: I don’t know really but I think it would be a lot of fun in the beginning, but if you would be a long time, like six months, it would also get boring I think.
CHRIS: Merlin, you had the opportunity to actually ride on the moonwalk and the gravity wall. What was it like riding on the moonwalk?
MERLIN: It was very difficult because it was really like without gravity. And you can’t walk on the moonwalk because it is always pulling you up. You have to jump forwards and without gravity you can’t control yourself.
CHRIS: Yes, it’s pretty difficult when you’re trying to walk in an environment that is 1/6 gravity on Earth. There was a rock on the floor. On your second run you had to actually pick up the rock. How difficult was that?
MERLIN: For me, it wasn’t difficult because I jumped in the right place and just got down and grabbed it but you really just have a few seconds to grab it and pick it up. Otherwise, you’re up again and it’s all over.
CHRIS: A really cool activity behind us is the gravity wall. What was it like being on the gravity wall?
MERLIN: Going up it wasn’t so hard because you do it like when you’re doing push ups. You’re pulling yourself up. But down, you’re never pulling yourself down somewhere because gravity is pulling you down. The muscles to pull you down you don’t have them really. They are not trained. You have to exercise this and I’m sure you can get faster and better and control yourself.
CHRIS: When you were at the very top, you were working on a mock up satellite. You had to take out some wires and put some wires in. What were you exactly doing there?
MERLIN: It was a line that you have to put the threads like this inside, that the line that is going on. I didn’t do it because the last one had nine holes and it was very hard to do the right combination.
CHRIS: I want you to educate me. What was the purpose of that big black container in the back of the gravity wall?
MERLIN: It was a container with water inside. In the beginning it’s measuring your weight. They put the same weight of water in the containers so you have the same weight. You just need a very light push and the container is going down and you are going up. It’s the same thing the other way.
CHRIS: You know what Merlin, I think talking with you over the last couple of minutes, I think you will be an astronaut one day. I look forward to reading all about you in the papers.
BLAIR: We’re here in the rocket room with one of the students from Mission-X. Your name is?
ALESSANDRO: My name is Alessandro. I’m from Naples, Italy.
BLAIR: Alessandro’s first language is not English, however, through a translator we learned all about his experiences at Mission-X but additionally here in the final finishing stage of Mission-X, the rocket room. Alessandro and his teammate built a rocket and faced a lot of different challenges. It’s actually interesting because they build the rockets entirely from scratch. There are no premade materials other than the motor. So, they’re literally creating the fuselage. They are providing the artwork, adding the motors. It is a very hands-on experience building a rocket from the ground up. They had a great time, of course. Alessandro said the biggest challenge was making the fins but sure enough they worked through it. All the students got them put on their rockets successfully and it looks like this afternoon we’re going to have a great launch.
STUDENTS: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
CROWD: Oh my!
CHRIS: Mission-X 2014 from the Euro Space Center is a wrap.
BLAIR: In the spirit of the World Cup and the physical fitness component of Mission-X, the kids have started a pick up football game.
CHRIS: We want to thank all of the parents, the teachers, the mentors that make this event possible. We’re looking forward to Mission-X 2015. You’re watching NASA EDGE.
BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.
CHRIS: Let’s challenge these kids to a game of football.
BLAIR: Alright. I could be the mascot.
CHRIS: I’ll be a referee and we’ll challenge you.
STUDENT: Okay, you’ll be the referee.
CHRIS: You ready? Ready?
[Shouting and playing]
CHRIS: See, we had a goal.
BLAIR: I know. That was a good score.
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