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Geocaching in Space – Q&A with Astronaut Rick Mastracchio

Annika on February 10, 2014, 9:18 am

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Extreme Geocaching | Milestones

Spacestation trackable1

Students ask – Astronaut Rick Mastracchio answers

On his final trip to Space on November 2013, Astronaut Rick Mastracchio packed along a Geocaching Travel Bug to the International Space Station (ISS). The little Travel Bug connected with students all over the world to teach about space travel, science and geography.

Since then many school kids have posted their questions on the Travel Bug details page, where Astronaut Rick Mastracchio (Geocaching name AstroRM) has answered them one by one.

This is a collection of the question and answers that teachers can bring to their classroom and students can soak up. For the visual learner, have a look at the Pinterest board or check out the gallery on the trackable details page.

Do you or your students have questions about space travel, that have not been answered yet? Post them on the Travel Bug details page! Let us know what school you are from, the grade, city, state and country!

installing telescope

Russian teammates are working outside of Mastracchio’s window installing a telescope.

At what speed does the International Space Station (ISS) travel?

The ISS travels at a speed of 17,500 miles an hour.

How far above the Earth is the ISS?

The ISS is 220 miles above the Earth.

picture from ISS

What does NASA stand for?

National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

How many times a day does the International Space Station Orbit the a Earth?

About 16 times a day.

What a Expedition is Astronaut Rick Mastracchio going to the ISS on?

Expedition 38

What are the three countries the travel bug has gone to so far?

United States, Germany and Russia.

How far will the trackable travel during it’s 6 month on board of the ISS?

Something between 70 and 82 million miles (112 and 133 million km).

sahara

We learned that a long term effect of being in space is that our bodies begins to lose calcium and our muscles weaken. What do astronauts eat to help build calcium and muscle strength? Also, what types of physical exercise do you do when you are up there?

It is true that our muscles get weak and ours bones get thinner and weaker when we are in a weightless environment, like the space station. It is similar to what happens to a person who is in bed 24 hours a day due to illness. We eat a very balanced diet that is determined by our dieticians and doctors. We also exercise every day. We run on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike and we also lift weights. The weight machine cannot use weights, since everything is weightless, so it uses large air pistons that allow us to control the resistance. It reminds me of a large bicycle pump.

We learned that the body’s fluids shifts above your heart when in space. What does that feel like?

On the earth your heart works hard to pump blood from your legs to your head. In space it does not have to work that hard to move the blood. When you first get into space your head gets puffy, and you feel like you have a headache. After a few days or week your body readjusts and you return to normal.

How many people fit inside the of the Soyuz spaceship capsule?

The Soyuz spacecraft holds a maximum of 3 people. My mission will include a Russian Cosmonaut, a Japanese Astronaut and me.

How much training do you need to keep up with all of that technology?

We train in many different areas. We train to operate the space station, operate the Soyuz vehicle, perform experiments, control robotic arms, perform space walks and many more things. For this mission alone I have been training for 2.5 years. I also had to learn to understand and speak the Russian language while doing all of this.

spacecaching23

How did you get those hitchikers that are attached to the travel bug?

My daughter worked at a veterinary clinic and I was trying to come up with ideas for small items to fly in space and give to the schools. So the hitchhikers are literally small dog tags from my daughter.

What does it feel like to be in space?

When you first get to space you don’t always feel great. It takes time for your body to adapt. At first a lot of your blood goes to your head since there is no gravity to pull it down. This gives you a headache and a stuffy hose. Also, your stomach feels queasy, like you just rode on a rollercoaster 10 times. Eventually your body adjusts the blood in your head and your stomach gets used to being weightless. Then you feel great and it is like you are superman. You can fly and lift thousands of pounds.

What does the Earth look like in space?

The earth is beautiful from up here. So many colors of blue in the ocean. It is like looking at a globe or a map of the planet. I should have studied my geography a little more. It is sometimes hard to identify the countries but I am getting better. (See the pictures of Earth seen from space Rick has posted on the trackable’s details page here.)

Can you see the weather from space?

We can see clouds, hurricanes and even lightning storms. Lightning is my favorite thing to watch up here. I have seen huge storms cover almost all of Africa and the lightning strikes danced all over the place. It was incredible.
Of course we can see snow covered places and If you know where to look we can see icebergs. They are difficult to tell from clouds but they have a slightly blue tint to them.

weather from space

What is your favorite thing to do in Space?

I have many things that I enjoy doing here on the space station, Of course looking out the window at our Earth is fascinating. The many colors of the oceans and the snow capped mountains are beautiful. I especially like seeing lightning storms from space. It looks like the lightning is dancing all over the place.

I also enjoy working on the research and experiments we have onboard the space station. We are very busy trying to develop new medicines and new technologies to help the people of the Earth.

Can you see Utah/The Great Salt Lake from space?

Yes we can easily see Utah and The Great Salt Lake from space. I will try to take a photo of them and send it to you if I can. Sometimes it takes many days to pass over a certain part of the world or sometimes we pass over it while we are sleeping.

What Temperature do they have it set too inside the space station? Everyone seems to be in shorts.

The temperature on the station is like your house. It is very comfortable. Some rooms which we call modules are warmer than others because they have so much equipment in them. We wear shorts sometimes for comfort but we always wear them for our exercise period. We have to exercise more than 2 hours every day so that we can walk again when we return to Earth.

spacefeet

What is your favorite book? Why?

I cannot say that I have one favorite book since there are so many good books that I have read. However, I will never forget reading The Swiss Family Robinson story. It was great. The reason I liked it was because the family landed on a deserted island with almost nothing and built everything they needed. They were very creative in finding ways to not only survive but make their life comfortable. Talking about it makes me want to read it again someday.

Who is/was your inspiration? Why?

I cannot say any individual or group inspired me but I did have many people affect my life and its course. My father was a hard worker and that really shaped me throughout my life. I had many teachers who encouraged me and helped me to get where I am today. My wife was always willing to follow me to new job assignments around the country.

What are your favorite hobbies on the ISS and on Earth?

At home I enjoy woodworking, building furniture, and working in my garden and yard. On the space station I enjoy looking out the window and taking pictures of interesting things I see. The photography is very difficult from up here so that in itself is a hobby. We are traveling 5 miles every second! So it is easy to miss a shot of an interesting place.

We are also interested in how someone can email to and from space? How does the ISS connect to the internet?

The space station has large bandwidth capability. That means it can transmit and receive a lot of data. This data can be simple commands to the space station, like turn on a device. The data can be audio, like a phone call or even video, like a television program. At any one time we can be transmitting or receiving multiple audio and video signals plus commands. This capability also allows us to send email just like you do except it is transmitted down to NASA first and then routed to the folks we send it to. We can also call our family on the phone from up here but they cannot call us. Sometimes on the weekend they transmit television up to us. It is only one channel but it is better than no channels.

spacebug

If I want to become an astronaut too, what is the most important thing you would advise?

The most important thing is to go to college to study a subject you really enjoy. Then continue your education into graduate school and get a job working in the area you enjoy. Once you have established yourself you can try to get a job at a space agency if not in Egypt then perhaps in another country or Europe. I do not know anything about Egypt’s space program or if it has anything similar.

How do you get fresh water and air on the ISS?

Here on station we recycle our air and water. In the first picture you can see the travel bug visiting our toilet. This is where the water goes into the system. In the second picture the travel bug is visiting our water dispenser. This is where the water comes out of the system. So yes that means our urine is recycled into clean drinkable water. The water in the atmosphere from our sweat and wet towels and other sources is also captured, condensed into a liquid and recycled. We try not to waste any water on the ISS.

It is interesting that the crew members release carbon dioxide (CO2) when we breath and of course urinate. The urine is used to make clean drinking water, then the water is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen. We use the oxygen to breath but what should we do with the hydrogen? We combine the hydrogen with the carbon dioxide (CO2) to make water (H2O) and methane. The methane we throw out. Every system has its limitations. Even though the system is not perfect it saves NASA from having to launch oxygen and water to the ISS.

I think I will go get a drink of water now.

Travel Bug at the ISS toilet.

How does the machine that recycles water clean it again if was dirty before?

We recycle all of our water. The system uses filters and also distillation. Distillation is when the dirty water is turned into gas and then back into water. This removes a lot of the impurities in the water.

Is the water and air that you recycle good for you?

The water and air we recycle is very clean and that makes it very good for us.

waterfiltration

Travel Bug on the ISS at the area where water comes out of filtration system

What does your food taste like?

We have all kinds of food here on the space station. Most of the food has all the air and water removed to make it smaller and lighter. Then when we want to eat it we add water to it and it returns to its original form and shape. It does not taste as good as the food you have at home but it is pretty good.

How does the rocket break apart?

The rocket has 3 stages or parts to it. Each stage is like its own rocket. It takes a lot of power to reach low earth orbit. The first stage pushes us above the lower atmosphere and then it burns out and disconnects from the remaining parts. After it falls off, the second stage engine turns on or ignites and it pushes us even higher. This continues until we reach orbit. So the tall rocket that started on the launch pad is a small vehicle by time it reaches the space station.

Are the beds uncomfortable?

We sleep in sleeping bags that hang on the wall. But there is no gravity so there is no up and down. I can hang upside down all day and it does not affect me at all. Sleeping is very comfortable. It is like floating on air. Which is what I am really doing.

sleep

How does a rocket fly? How does it fly straight up?

The rocket has very powerful engines, and very complicated computers to control it. It flies up but it also flies away from the launch pad on a very specific path or trajectory. It is like shooting a basketball into a hoop. You need to aim it very carefully to get the ball into the basket. A rocket is like a big basketball, the space station is the hoop, and the computers are controlling the shot.

How does the food get fresh again when you put water in the bag?

The dehydrated food is food without the water in it. So when we add the water back it returns to its original form. Think of it like frozen food. It is not as good as fresh food but still pretty good.

The  questions above have been asked by students of Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School-Waterbury, CT; Washington Elementary School-Waterbury, CT; Walsh Elementary School-Waterbury, CT; Chase Elementary School-Waterbury, CT; West Clinton Elementary School – Clinton, UT; Fairfield Middle School-Langdon, KS and Tinker School-Waterbury, CT.


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