US astronauts Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines pose with kids and teachers from Thomson Elementary School on March 30, 2023, in Washington DC. EFE/Octavio Guzman

NASA to kids: Some of you could go to Mars

Washington, Mar 30 (EFE).- How does it feel to know that you’re going into space? Does your food float? – Astronauts Jessica Watkins, Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines on Thursday were the “stars” for kids at a Washington school, who they told that in the not-too-distant future some of them could be the first people to travel to Mars.

US astronauts Jessica Watkins and Bob Hines pose with kids and teachers from Thomson Elementary School on March 30, 2023, in Washington DC. EFE/Octavio Guzman

The exchange at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in the US capital was aimed at approaching kids with NASA’s mission to explore space and to satisfy their curiosity by being there in person to answer the questions they put to the Crew-4 mission crew, who returned from the International Space Station (ISS) last October after spending more than six months in space circling the Earth.

US astronauts Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and Kjell Lindgren pose with kids and teachers from Thomson Elementary School on March 30, 2023, in Washington DC. EFE/Octavio Guzman

Dressed in blue jumpsuits bearing their names and the NASA logo, when the astronauts appeared before the kids the cries of astonishment with which they were received show that their extraterrestrial work continues to arouse passions among children.

The three astronauts urged their audience to think and dream big emphasizing that the universe is out there waiting for them.

Of course, the astronauts know that there’s risk in what they do, but what makes them unafraid is that they have an “incredible team that helps us,” said Watkins during the chat, making clear that lifting off into orbit was preceded by years of training.

The hardest part of a mission, Hines said, is being far from your family members. But during the six months they spent in orbit, they spoke with their loved ones by telephone almost every day and once a week they had a videocall, and that helped. And when they were finally reunited back on Earth is was “super emotional.”

The children were interested in knowing if it is scary being in space, how they manage to sleep and what they were feeling when they lifted off. And the astronauts’ answers helped the kids put themselves in their place for a little while.

Liftoff feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest and when you breathe, but fortunately it only lasts about 90 seconds and after that, suddenly everything is silent and you’re floating and “it’s amazing,” Lindgren told the kids, having been the commander of the mission in which the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti, from Italy, also participated.

Lindgren, born in Taiwan and with a doctorate in medicine, wanted to be an astronaut from the time he was young. Seeing a liftoff when he was in second grade, at age 7 or 8, made him set his sights on going into orbit, he told EFE.

With encounters like this one, NASA and its astronauts are inspiring new generations to follow in their footsteps and continue exploring space.

The most important thing in becoming an astronaut, Watkins said, is knowing how to work on a team, and that is necessary so that a crewed spaceflight can be a success and so that the personnel can enjoy their time together.

The three crewmembers came before the children just days before NASA is scheduled, on April 3, to reveal the names of four new astronauts – three Americans and a Canadian – who will travel to the Moon next year on the Artemis II mission.

Saying that she didn’t think there were any surprises on the mission, Watkins – who is African American – said that “Our agency is clear about the importance of diversity in all of our teams, including our crews. It’s an exciting time to have such a strong astronaut corps that has that diversity of skill sets and backgrounds that we can really rely on and pull on anybody to do the job.”

Watkins was certified as an astronaut in 2017 and her stay on the ISS was her first trip into space.

The Moon, the three spacefarers agreed, is the first step toward the objective of getting to Mars, which NASA has on its agenda for 2040.

There are a series of challenges on the technological level, but as they have always done they will “constantly work towards that goal and realize it as soon as we can,” Lindgren said.

The children with whom the astronauts chatted on Thursday are students in grades 3 through 5 (ages 8 – 11) at Thomson Elementary School. In 2040, they will be between 25 and 28 years of age and Hines said he had the impression that “one of you” could in fact be one of the first people to set foot on Mars.

EFE mgr/er/bp