Pilton pupils chat to astronaut

THRILLED youngsters at a Barnstaple primary school enjoyed a rare out-of-this-world experience on Friday as they spoke to a real astronaut in orbit 250 miles above their heads. During a special amateur radio hook-up, lucky pupils at Pilton Bluecoat School

THRILLED youngsters at a Barnstaple primary school enjoyed a rare out-of-this-world experience on Friday as they spoke to a real astronaut in orbit 250 miles above their heads.During a special amateur radio hook-up, lucky pupils at Pilton Bluecoat School had a live chat with a NASA astronaut, flight engineer and science officer Sandra "Sandy" Magnus aboard the International Space Station.The school became one of only 405 across the entire globe to date to experience live contact with the station as it hurtled around the earth at 17,000 miles an hour.The conversation-of-a-lifetime was made possible by ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) which organises just one or two such events per year as part of educational work on behalf of the space agencies.Before "contact" at 2.50pm on Friday, pupils and staff watched a short film about life for the astronauts and cosmonauts on board the station, including their daily routines, limited space and the novelty of eating and drinking in a weightless environment.Once the link was established, 10 pupils took turns asking American astronaut Sandra about her life, experiences and inspirations aboard the station, where she has been living as part of Expedition 18 since mid-November.She told them how the station was working and testing various materials while in space, as well as the effects of such a strange environment on the human body.They were fascinated to hear about the daily routine of an astronaut, what the station's occupants could see from on high and what had inspired her to become an astronaut in the first place.There was surprise at hearing spacemen did not wash their clothes, too... "It uses a lot of water," explained Sandra."We use wet wipes at the end of the day, but with clothes we wear them for a time and then throw them away."For 25 years, amateur radio operators around the world have had the unique opportunity to be able to talk to astronauts and cosmonauts in orbit, although windows of contact must be carefully timed as the station passes within range.ARISS is an unpaid voluntary organisation and one of its roles is to encourage young people to take an interest in science, technology and communications.

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