SMC, engineering students interview space station crew live on TUTV

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It marked the first time a person being interviewed on TUTV-Temple University Television was weightless.

American astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, as well as Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata fielded questions from Temple students representing the College of Engineering and the School of Media and Communication, during a live interview from the International Space Station as it orbited 250 miles above the Indian Ocean Feb. 27, 2014.

The conversation on TUTV Presents: Space Station Live touched on the mental and physical preparation behind a space walk and some of the new technology that is being tested on the ISS.

The experience was thrilling for everyone involved, as witnessed by the whooping cheer that went up in Kal and Lucille Rudman Media Production Center as soon as program concluded.

“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” said junior media studies and production major Karina Cheung, who co-anchored the show with fellow MSP major Nick Lucier, a senior. “I’ve anchored before, but to actually talk to people who are in space just floating there and passing the mic, which is doing flips and floating through the air, was an amazing experience.”

Cheung admitted that the only things she had, previously, learned about space have come from The Big Bang Theory. So, she put a lot of  her energy into research about the ISS before the LIVE broadcast.

“Luckily, my co-anchor was a space nut, so he knew a lot. The hardest thing for me while I was researching was to try to comprehend all of the terms that they use, like ‘remote robotic oxidizer,’” she said. “I knew I had to wrap my brain around the vocabulary well enough to be able to explain it in a different way that everyone can understand.”

(A remote robotic oxidizer is a piece of technology that would allow satellites to be refueled by robots, keeping humans safely away from what can be a hazardous operation.)

Well-educated questions
The College of Engineering students who participated are a part of Associate Professor John Helferty’s Student Space Exploration and Environmental Systems Laboratory, a program funded by NASA.

“We’ve worked with the student space lab for over 20 years here and the experience to have students actually talk to astronauts on the space station is the ultimate,” Helferty said following the broadcast, still buzzing from the experience. “For them, the important thing that is that they can see the benefits of working in a lab like this. We’re training engineers to do the science and the engineering to give the astronauts the ability to do what they do.”

Caley Roberson, a senior mechanical engineering major, works with a 3-D printer at the College of Engineering and asked the astronauts about the one the space station will soon have.

“I was curious about some of the issues that they’re going to have with a zero-gravity 3-D printer and how it’s going to help expedite research and projects that they’re going to be doing on the International Space Station,” she said. “If [our printer is] not kept at a continuous temperature, parts of it can get colder and contract before the rest of an item is printed, so it can create some issues with stress concentration. I was wondering what that’s going to be like up there.”

The astronauts weren’t really sure.

“It’s interesting to know that they’re going to send it up there and they’ll learn by testing out what the problems are,” Roberson said. “It’s nice to know that even NASA learns by experience.”

Like the TUTV crew, it’s an experience Roberson won’t soon forget.

“I thought I was nervous for my senior design presentation! This was just a totally different level,” she said. “You only get one shot. How often do you get to talk to someone who’s not even on this planet?”

Helferty said the opportunity to speak with astronauts would be like a basketball fan meeting Michael Jordan. “For engineering students, it’s astronauts who are our idols. The lifestyle that they lead, the work that they do, it’s only positive. They’re great role models.”

Covering all of Temple’s majors
Programming like TUTV Presents: Space Station Live is made possible by a generous grant from the Kal and Lucille Rudman Foundation, said Paul Gluck, associate professor of media studies and production and general manager of TUTV.

“At TUTV, we think that, given the growing educational and professional emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it’s is a part of our core mission to produce and present the kind of programming can help us better understand the world around us and the worlds we’ve yet to explore,” Gluck said.

TUTV is planning to air the ISS interview as part of a larger special about space exploration in mid-March. TUTV can be seen on cable within Philadelphia on Comcast channel 50 and Verizon channel 45 or online at templetv.net.

- Jeff Cronin, SMC Communications

Watch TUTV Presents: Space Station Live here: