NASA astronaut floors Oman's TAISM students with space tales
Muscat: Students at The American International School in Muscat (TAISM) got a surprise visit on Sunday morning from NASA astronaut Steven Swanson, who inspired them with his stories from space.
The American astronaut has been on three missions in space, the most recent from March 25 to September 10 this year. Swanson, who has a PhD in Computer Science and joined NASA in 1987, hoped to encourage the students to pursue careers in sciences.
“I think it’s very important to visit students and tell them what we do and try to promote math and science and technology. I do think it’s very important for people to understand them and to try to get kids to go into our field of expertise,” Swanson told Times of Oman.
The students were curious about his experiences in space and pounded him with questions about daily life in space and some of the science behind space travel. The curious students’ questions included from how one goes to the bathroom and has a bath in space, what happens with the astronauts’ garbage, how to know if it’s day or night in space, and how fast the rockets and the International Space Station travel.
Swanson, who was dressed in his official NASA coveralls, took the time to explain all kinds of aspects of living in space, such as sleeping in a sleeping bag while floating, and seeing 16 sunsets and sunrises each day because of the speed they travel around the earth. He also mentioned a few personal things, such as his favourite space food, which is chicken in peanut sauce, and his favourite thing about being in space, floating.
“It really is fun. I tell the kids that all the time, but it really is true. Floating is something you never get tired of. It’s really fun to do and makes everything you do up there a really good time,” he said.
One of the other ways astronauts have been encouraging youth to consider following paths that lead to space has been through social media, including Tweeting from space and posting videos on YouTube, one of which he showed to the students.
“We are funded by taxpayers so I think it’s important to give back to those folks and also the younger generation uses social media much more than other forms of media, so we need to reach those kids, too,” Swanson said.
Speaking about his most recent mission, Swanson said he and the other astronauts were doing a number of science experiments, spending about four to five hours a day on them.
“Our main goal is science, so we have many different types of science that we do up there, from basic physics to doing science on our bodies where we’re the guinea pigs,” he said.
Swanson’s expertise is in control systems so much of his work focused on creating new algorithms for control systems on satellites. His work from space also involved working with students back on earth who learned to program small satellites.
“We also had a contest for high school and middle school kids where they could learn to programme these themselves and they had a competition to see what they could do with them, and we got to be part of that, which was really fun,” he explained.
While NASA is funded by tax dollars, Swanson said it’s also good to see private entrepreneurs looking at space exploration. He said currently it may be too expensive to be viable as a business, but perhaps, there could be room for joint efforts between the government and private sector to build up the industry.
He said it’s crucial to keep exploring space because it helps explain life here on earth and provides more information about the universe. It also brings a return on investment since so much learned in space or developed for space missions can be used on earth, too.
“There’s a lot of technology that is developed by NASA and they are turned into products in the marketplace which creates companies, which creates jobs, which creates taxes, so you get benefits from that. We also learn a bunch of fundamental new science out there and that helps everybody. In many ways we help the society itself,” Swanson explained.
Swanson was in Muscat as part of a region tour organised by OneTeam American 300 Envoy, a non-governmental organisation founded by Robi Powers that takes inspiring people from around the world to foster cross-cultural communication and dialogue. The tour also includes stops in Djibouti and the UAE.