Space Seems Closer For Colorado High Schoolers Thanks To ISS Astronaut And Alum

Sep 12, 2018

The distance between space and earth is now a lot smaller for a group of northern Colorado kids.

About 400 Poudre High students packed into the school auditorium to see an alum, Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor. She is an astronaut and part of the Expedition 56/57 crew currently in orbit on the International Space Station (ISS). She's been stationed there since June.

Auñón-Chancellor took a break from her daily work of conducting science experiments and performing routine maintenance on the space station to chat with the students via Skype. They asked an array of questions, from how she sleeps in space to whether Auñón-Chancellor can see the effects of climate change.

Auñón-Chancellor told the students that the ISS had flown over the eye of Hurricane Florence. Everyone in the station stopped what they were doing to stare out a big window overlooking earth.

"It was just mind-boggling. Because you don't get that perspective on the ground," she said. "Certainly, weather events, big pattern changes, you see them so well from up here because you have such a massive vantage point."

Junior Tom Isaacson is a young filmmaker, so he asked about the difference between a real space walk and the Hollywood version. Auñón-Chancellor's answer drew laughs from the audience.

"Hollywood makes preparations for space walks so easy. One big difference, we wear diapers," she said. "It is an absolute necessity. You're in that suit anywhere from six to seven-and-a-half hours."

The Skype session between the students and Auñón-Chancellor happened by chance.

Tim Lenczycki, a Poudre High School chemistry teacher, worked with former student and astronaut Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor to arrange a Sykpe session with students from the International Space Station.
Credit Stephanie Daniel / KUNC

Tim Lenczycki teaches chemistry at Poudre and while on a family vacation in Florida, he went to the Kennedy Space Center. There, on a huge IMAX screen, he saw Auñón-Chancellor talking about being an astronaut.

"Oh my gosh, that's my student," he remembers exclaiming.

Lenczycki, who had taught Auñón-Chancellor physics years earlier, emailed her and they worked together to set up the conversation. He said she was an extremely motivated student and her teachers knew she wanted to be an astronaut.

"(She) wanted to be an electrical engineer so that was step one, and she wanted to be a medical doctor, that was step two," Lenczycki said. "Always keeping that idea of working with NASA and being an astronaut in the back of her mind."

Auñón-Chancellor, who graduated in 1993, showed her school pride by wearing a Poudre Impalas sweatshirt during the chat.

Isaacson said the chance to Skype with an astronaut was a unique opportunity for the students - and that astronaut being a successful alum who achieved her dreams was important to a lot of Poudre students.

"I feel like nothing's impossible, that you can do whatever you want," said Isaacson. "Just work for it and achieve your dreams."