Napa astronaut to talk science with Vintage High students from space station

September 15, 2016
Napa Valley Register

Vintage High School

A virtual visit, that is — from the International Space Station, 250 miles above the Earth.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Napa-raised Rubins will lead a 20-minute, space-to-school question-and-answer chat with Vintage students from the space station, where she began a four-month mission July 6. The downlink arranged by NASA will connect the astronaut with about 200 science students watchig Rubins on a video screen inside a campus theater, with the program to be carried live online at NASA TV and on Comcast cable channel 27 in Napa.

The space agency will use a combination of Skype, NASA TV facilities, ground-based antennas and communications satellites to link Rubins with her student audience on a two-second delay, according to NASA spokeswoman Hayley Fick at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Vintage students will receive audio and video of Rubins and her crewmates Anatoly Ivanishin of Russia and Takuya Onishi of Japan, but the astronauts will hear only audio from Napa.

Teachers asked students to submit possible questions for Rubins on a variety of topics, then passed the list to NASA for winnowing to 25 questions for the space station call, according to Elizabeth Emmett, spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Ahead of the space-to-earth chat, Vintage students have been studying topics related to Rubins’ research aboard the orbiting space platform, including DNA sequencing. In late August, Rubins, a biologist who studied the Ebola virus, smallpox and other pathogens before her 2009 selection as a NASA astronaut, used a new pocket-size device and samples from mice, bacteria and viruses to perform the first successful decoding of genetic material in zero gravity — a step the space agency says can help future explorers diagnose illnesses or check the safety of microbes on a Mars mission, or even identify extraterrestrial life forms.

Napa Valley Unified proposed the space-to-earth call in April, while Rubins and her two crewmates were preparing for the July 6 launch, and gained NASA’s approval just before the school year began in August, according to Vintage’s assistant principal Peter Abboud.

Vintage’s call to the space station is the second of two downlinks by Rubins to a student audience. On Aug. 31, she and Jeff Williams, a member of the astronaut team that was sharing the orbital platform with Rubins’ crew, took questions from teens attending Leslie County High School in Hyden, Kentucky.