Pleasantdale Elementary School students made West Orange history having the experience of a lifetime video chatting with Captain Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 18.
Pleasantdale Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara and her team spent months coordinating with NASA to set up the first-ever West Orange school chat with an astronaut in space. Both Captain Scott Kelly and his identical twin brother, astronaut Mark Kelly, attended Pleasantdale school, Lincoln Middle School (now West Orange High School) and Mountain High School, graduating in 1982.
The primary goal of the year-long exhibition is to assess the effects of long-term space travel on the human body. Health and crew performance assessments will be utilized by NASA as they explore the possibility of missions around the moon, to asteroids, and eventually, Mars.
Students, teachers, and district officials including Superintendent Jeff Rutzky, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Donna Rando and Board of Education members Mark Robertson and Sandra Mordecai were present as the feed to the International Space Station went live. The smiling face of Captain Scott Kelly appeared, greeting students from the ISS, located more than two hundred miles above them in space.
“This is an historic event you can tell your family and even your children about,” said Pollara. “Some of you may even be involved in the work that will someday send someone to Mars. It may not be in my lifetime, but it could be in yours.”
Captain Mark Kelly visited Pleasantdale on Oct. 13. As the only identical twin astronauts in history, NASA will also study the Kelly brothers to observe possible differences between the two following Captain Kelly’s return from the ISS.
Kelly chatted amiably with students and answered questions, taking them on a video tour of the station. Highlights included Kelly snacking on floating M&Ms, seeing the space suits worn by the astronauts for space walks and viewing the earth from the ISS window.
When a student asked what he does when not working on more than 400 projects and science experiments, Kelly said, “I like to read; journal, post on Twitter, talk on the phone, and work out on the treadmill.”
Another student asked Kelly what was the most beautiful sight he had seen from space. “My favorites are the Bahamas and the deserts of Africa,” he answered.
Kelly described the best part of being an astronaut in space. “It was working at something very hard and being successful,” he stated. “Hard work, setting a goal and persevering gets you where you want to be.”
Captain Kelly is scheduled to return to Earth in the Spring of 2016 with fellow astronaut Mikhail Kornienko, with a planned landing in Kazakhstan.
Kelly ended the video chat by saying that while he was looking forward to returning to Earth, he loved his experience on the International Space Station as well.
“You miss being outside when you’re in space, and you miss space when you’re outside,” he smiled.