STILLWATER — Showing off the perks of being in space, International Space Station commander Kevin Ford did a backward somersault to end his conversation.
The maneuver generated a standing ovation from the nearly 500-member audience on the Oklahoma State University campus and perhaps inspired a few students.
Stillwater Middle School students were among those gathered at the Wes Watkins Center to viewed the broadcast from the space station, and 16 of the middle-schoolers were invited for a 25-minute question and answer session with Ford. He answered questions about sleeping in space, an astronaut's diet and how a person goes to the bathroom in space.
Cort Vanzant, a sixth-grader at Stillwater Middle School, said he thinks it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ask an astronaut a question.
“My question was what kind of life support technologies do you have aboard the International Space Station and how long do they last because I was wondering how long they could stay up in space and how they do it,” Vanzant said. “It was truly amazing and new for me, I don't think I'll ever be able to do something like this again.”
Vanzant said he has been interested in space and astronauts since a family vacation a few years ago but he's not sure he would be suited for a job so far away from everything.
“I went to the Kennedy Space Center on a vacation once and that was really neat but even then I wasn't able to talk with an astronaut,” he said. “It would be such a cool job but I think I would chicken out the minute I saw that rocket.”
Ford answered questions about what he does in his free time when he's not busy working on experiments in the lab.
“We actually have the ability to watch football on the days we aren't working up here,” Ford said. “But usually our favorite pastime is looking out the window and trying to spot your hometown or a place you've visited before.”
OSU President Burns Hargis attended the event, which was also broadcast live on OStateTV.
The in-flight education talk is one in a series with educational organizations in the United States and abroad to improve STEM teaching and learning, which is an integral component of NASA's Teaching From Space education program.
STEM stands for Service Teacher Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Hargis said more than 6,500 people watched the event either on campus or online, and he hopes it inspires a younger generation to consider OSU.
“I just think this is about the coolest thing I've seen around here,” Hargis said. “At OSU we are very serious about the STEM subjects and one of our main goals is to dramatically increase our graduates from our STEM areas so we hope all of you all come to Oklahoma State University and get a STEM degree.”