At school to­day, we spoke to a space­man

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY LEON SY­MONS

TEN-YEAR-OLD CLAU­DIA Cowen stood ner­vously in front of the mi­cro­phone. A dis­em­bod­ied woman’s voice filled the room: “This is WH6PN Honolulu call­ing for a sched­uled con­tact. Do you copy?”

The mes­sage was re­peated three times more as a packed Michael So­bell Si­nai School hall hung on ev­ery word. Then, sud­denly, through noisy static, came the voice they were wait­ing to hear — and a bit of his­tory was made.

The­hushed­hall­heardthevoice­ofJewish as­tro­naut Greg Chamitoff, cur­rently cir­cling the world in the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion: “WH6PN, this is sta­tion NSA1SS, re­ceiv­ing you loud and clear.”

The ner­vous pupil asked: “This is Clau­dia Cowen. What train­ing do you do to be­come an as­tro­naut?”

Greg Chamitoff replied: “Hi, Clau­dia, and wel­come on board every­one at Si­nai School. I want to say hello to my cousins. It’s great to have you on board the space sta­tion to­day.”

Thus be­gan ar­guably the most ex­cit­ing 10 min­utes in Europe’s big­gest Jewish pri­mary school — the first school in Lon­don to speak di­rectly to an as­tro­naut in space.

In May, two of the Ken­ton-based school’s younger pupils, Jes­sica and Amelia Di­a­mond, six and four, were taken by their par­ents, Karen and Ju­lian, to Florida, to watch the launch of the space shut­tle. For on board was Mrs Di­a­mond’s first cousin, Greg Chamitoff.

Mrs Di­a­mond said: “Since then, Ju­lian has kept track of the space sta­tion on the in­ter­net. He no­ticed in June that the Na­tional Aero­nau­ti­cal and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (Nasa) had or­gan­ised a link-up be­tween Greg and a ra­dio ham.

“We have been in email con­tact with Greg, so Ju­lian asked him if he would be in­ter­ested in speak­ing to the school. He said it was great and to get in touch with Nasa to or­gan­ise it. So we did.”

Once Nasa said yes, the Di­a­monds got in touch with Si­nai head Vivi­enne Orloff to be­gin or­gan­is­ing the link-up.

Deputy head Joanna Walker ex­plained that the tim­ing of the link-up was very spe­cific. “The space sta­tion or­bits the Earth ev­ery 90 min­utes and we booked a 10-minute slot at 12.34pm when it was di­rectly above Hawaii. Orig­i­nally it had been booked the pre­vi­ous week, but it was called off be­cause of Hur­ri­cane Ike,” said Mrs Walker.

The school’s Year Five, who are study­ing the plan­ets, and Year Six, who are re­vis­ing them, were in the hall along with many of the teach­ing staff. “As Year Five is study­ing it now, they got to ask the ques­tions,” said Mrs Walker.

“There was huge ex­cite­ment in the hall. It was touch and go whether or not we would make con­tact un­til the last minute. You could feel the ten­sion as the ra­dio op­er­a­tor in Honolulu tried to make con­tact, and there was great re­lief when she got through.”

The chil­dren had 20 one-line ques­tions writ­ten down and man­aged to get through 15 be­fore the static re­turned and the con­nec­tion came to an end.

They asked how an as­tro­naut can ob­serve re­li­gion in space; what was the pur­pose of his trip; what the food was like; what the Earth looks like from space — and, in­evitably, how as­tro­nauts go to the toi­let. (Care­fully, ap­par­ently.)

Mrs Walker said: “We thought they might get through 10 ques­tions so they did ex­tremely well to get in so many.”

Mrs Di­a­mond added: “It was un­be­liev­able. It was al­most as ex­cit­ing as be­ing at the launch, be­cause this was for the chil­dren. You could see in their faces that they couldn’t be­lieve they were talk­ing to him.” She re­vealed that her cousin had also given her a sur­prise.

“On my birth­day in July, the phone rang and I got a birth­day phone-call from my cousin in space. How cool is that?”

PHO­TOS: AP

Space prob­ing: Ely­ron Ishaik ( be­low) steps up to ask as­tro­naut Greg Chamitoff ( cir­cled) about toi­let mat­ters

PHOTO: BEN TURNER

Ely­ron Ishaik

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