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Breakfast With Astronauts

Report on 1999 Summer Session
Ashton Peters
New Plymouth Boys High School
New Plymouth, New Zealand

It is hard to sum up the experience of ISS 1999 on paper. I have experienced more than I could have ever imagined, not only in the nature of the furthering of my education, but the developing of my internationalism. The past two weeks have been ones I will never forget, and will always look back on as the most enjoyable of my life up to this point.

Having breakfast with astronauts every weekday was something that at first seemed like a strange proposition. However, it became a natural thing by the end of the two weeks, as we realized that astronauts are just like any of our parents, and are very easy to talk to. It is sometimes hard to believe that you are talking to a very elite member of society, heard of previously only on television or in magazines. I was also surprised by the range of occupations that astronauts had before selection, and this has opened my eyes to the many job opportunities that NASA can offer all of us.

The mornings we have spent at the Theile building in class have been fantastic. It has amazed me the amount of professionals working for NASA who have been willing to give up their time and energy to make memorable presentations on a hole range of space-related issues. Speakers that come to mind immediately are John Phillips (plasma physics in space), Colonel Bob Cabana (STS-88 Unity deployment), Smith Johnston (medicine) and John Young, who spoke of his experiences during his participation in three of the four major American manned space programs undertaken so far. However, all the speakers managed to make their presentation a little unique, and this made learning a lot easier.

The afternoons spent at JSC have given me an insight into the inner workings of NASA, a view only a handful of people will ever get. Getting to see real space hardware like the EVA and launch-entry suits was a fascinating experience, and learning about the design and engineering behind them gave a whole new perspective on the hard work put in by the people who work behind the scenes. We have also been privileged enough to see the X-38 crew return vehicle in assembly, and got a glimpse of the future of space exploration with the plasma engine at the propulsion laboratory. The huge mockups of shuttle and station hardware in Building 9 and the actual flight simulators used for crew training made me realize the amount of time that goes into training an astronaut crew before launch.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the space school has been the amazing people I have met from all round the world. I have met students from the opposite side of the globe, but this has been no barrier to getting to know them, and becoming friends. It is reassuring to me that no matter where in the world we come from, we all have common interests, aspirations and attitudes, and this bides well for the future of international cooperation. Language, gender, religion and culture have not been significant barriers at all to overcome.

Spending time with such great people has meant that we have had an enormous amount of fun during our time in Houston. The regular pool parties and organized events have been thoroughly enjoyed, with highlights such as the Challenger Mission at Brazos Bend and the international food fayre at Geoff and Annette’s house. These activities outside of the school day have meant that it has been a lot easier to get to know the students we are here with.

Another great thing about this school is the chance for international students to experience a foreign culture, some for the first time. I have had many cultural experiences during my time in Houston, such as baseball at the Astrodome, a day at Moody Gardens, shopping at the Galleria, and even driving on the wrong side of the road, something completely new to me! Having the chance to stay with an astronaut and his wife has also been something really special, and that I will always be grateful for.

One thing I have only fully realized after my arrival in Houston has been the incredibly hard work put in by Geoff and his team in the fundraising to bring us together for the space school. Many months of hard work have gone into both the fundraising and organization of this school, and I thank all those who have been involved in any way.
Thanks must also go to Chris Greenfield and his team of group leaders, who have done a superb job in the day to day running of the school. I also thank Micki and Don Pettit, my hosts for the past two weeks, who have welcomed me into their home and been a great taxi service!

The past two weeks have been something really special that I will remember for many decades to come. What I have experienced has changed my views on many topics, and educated me about a very important area of exploration. For this I am extremely thankful. The future of humankind is out there, and we are only just getting to know how we fit into this universe.

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