Students at Chief Peguis Junior High could barely keep their feet on the ground on Feb. 13.
Neither could their special guest presenter.
The school contacted Commander Chris Hadfield at the International Space Station as part of an all-school assembly. Fifteen students were chosen to ask questions to Hadfield, who is currently a flight engineer on Expedition 34 and will be the first Canadian commander when Expedition 35 begins in March. Students spoke into a microphone, and their questions were beamed into space with help from Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) representatives Brian Jackson in Airdrie, Alta. and Tony Hutchison in Kingston, South Australia. Hadfield then answered on a ham radio aboard the station.
Hadfield has already been contacted by schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario, and ARISS representatives have lined up schools in the remaining provinces and territories.
Organizing teacher Kathleen Murphy started making preparations back in September with a friend who works for the Canadian Space Agency. After completing a "daunting" request form, Murphy was then put in contact with Jackson, a fellow teacher.
She said being able to contact Hadfield was especially neat for the school, as Hadfield paid a visit in April 2011, when current Grade 9 students were in Grade 7.
"Because our kids had made that connection and had met him, I pursued the ARISS contact," she said. "I thought it would be very enriching to further their connection with him while he was aboard the space station because he spoke of it when he was here.
"I hope what they got out of this experience is that you can fulfill your dreams. With hard work and a positive attitude, anything is possible."
Murphy said all students were invited to submit questions, and she selected the ones posed to Hadfield based on whether they were asked when he was there in-person.
While most questions pertained to the Hadfield’s mission and how to become an astronaut,
Grade 7 student Hudson Wall delved more into practical matters, inquiring how the astronaut takes care of his trademark mustache in space.
"I was pretty psyched to ask him a question," he said. "I just came up with it. I wanted to know how he did it."
Grade 9 student Reave Johnson was in the audience when Hadfield paid a visit to the school two years ago. He was glad to maintain the connection to the Sarnia, Ont.-born Hadfield.
"The guy’s up in space. I wish I could go up into space one day," he said. "I just didn’t get to be up close and personal (when he was here) because I was in the back row."
Before the connection, students were shown a video tour of the space station featuring Hadfield’s predecessor, American astronaut Sunita Williams, as well as a video of Hadfield collaborating on an original song I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) with rockers the Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts glee choir from Toronto.
Afterward, Chief Peguis’ guitar club performed Coldplay’s Yellow and Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars in honour of the collaboration.
Those interested in keeping up with Hadfield’s mission can follow him on Twitter with his @Cmdr_Hadfield handle.