On a cool autumn morning, Osage Nation students from area schools posed questions virtually to NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann who is aboard the International Space Station for a six-month mission.
Mann is the first Indigenous woman from NASA to enter space and launched to the International Space Station as commander of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Oct. 5, 2022, according to NASA. Mann is a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and is registered with the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes.
The Osage Nation Education Department, along with partnering entities, hosted the Nov. 23 event titled “Children Talk to Stars” at the Osage County Fairgrounds Ag Building where invited students and community members watched a pre-recorded question and answer session featuring Mann who fielded the students’ questions live via NASA’s uplink.
The event was made possible after Daposka Ahnkodapi students applied to NASA to speak directly to the astronauts on the International Space Station. As part of that process, and in competition with hundreds of schools across the country, the students participated in several activities to make a video application. They built their own rockets and launched them on the Osage Nation campus on May 6; they visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and they also sent in letters of recommendation.
This is the second time Mann has answered questions from Osage students. On Oct. 19, as part of an Associated Press interview with Indigenous news outlets across the country, Osage News chose two questions from Daposka Ahnkodapi students Shane Cass and Dominic Shackelford.
For the Nov. 23 event, about 20 inquiries from ON school students, including Daposka Ahnkodapi, were selected and those students were visually recorded locally to ask their questions regarding space life and science.
Retired educator and former Osage Congressman Archie Mason emceed the event and noted that Mann and her fellow crew members are on a mission until March 2023 and would be circling Earth in the meantime.
The event also featured several booths for students and attendees to take part in arts and craft projects with a focus on the STEAM curriculum used in teaching science lessons, including small rocket launches.
In the approximately 20-minute Q&A, Mann responded to questions after an opening delivered by Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. “We are so excited to be able to hear from the first Native American woman in space, NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann, live from the International Space Station and we welcome everyone to join us for this out-of-the-world experience today,” he said.
Daposka student Malana McGlaston asked the first question to Mann if she brought anything from her tribal heritage on the mission. Mann said she brought a dreamcatcher given to her from her mother and noted she’s had one by her bed since childhood, “so I thought it would be very fitting to have one with me in space and I have it next to my crew quarters to remind me of home.”
Daposka student Izhinke Jacobs asked how fire is made in space. Mann said “in space we can make fire, but it has to be in a very controlled environment and the really cool thing about flames in space is that instead of burning like you can imagine on a candle, they burn in a spear. And because we’re in microgravity, heat doesn’t rise, so that gives you that spear and microgravity allows us to study and better understand the components of combustion and this could lead to more efficient engines on Earth and will also help us control fires to stay safe in space.”
Hominy High School student August Holding asked how many languages are spoken amongst crew members aboard the International Space Station. Mann said several languages are being spoken aside from English. “On the U.S. side, of course, we speak English and we learn to speak Russian as well so we can coordinate with our Russian colleagues. We have a Japanese astronaut on board, he speaks Japanese, German, English, Russian and probably a few more languages. And of course, the Russian astronauts speak English and Russian and some of them speak other languages as well, so it truly is an international crew.”
Daposka student Wahreshe Hamilton asked if Mann has her own room on the space station. Mann said she has her own room, which is called crew quarters. “It’s the size of a phone booth and really that’s all the space you need and because we don’t have a floor or ceiling in space, you have one person that sleeps on the deck of the space station, somebody that’s port (side), somebody that’s starboard and somebody that’s overhead and my room happens to be overhead.”
Daposka student Jianna Jones asked how long did it take for Mann to train for her mission. Mann said “I showed up to NASA in 2013 and started training for space flights. Those first two years, you go through … general training on all aspects of the International Space Station, of flying airplanes, learning how to do space walks, learning maintenance and science as well. And then, once you’re assigned for a specific mission, you go into a dedicated training… ours was a little bit over a year and you learn specifically the spacecraft that you’ll be flying to the International Space Station and then you also practice some more specific science, spacewalks and maintenance that you’ll be doing during your time on board, which we call an expedition.”
Pawhuska Junior High student Titan Harris asked if astronauts can play video games in space. Mann said “unfortunately I don’t have a video game console up here otherwise I probably would. We do have some VR sets and we actually use those for training and also for maintenance on the space station.”
Hominy High student Izzy Holding asked if the space crew rotates household chores while in space. Mann said “of course we rotate household chores just like at home. Everybody needs to pitch in and do their job. So, we clean on the weekends, we have a 2-3 hour block dedicated to housekeeping and each of the crew members rotate through their assigned modules that week and it’s on a four-week rotation.”
Daposka student Anthony Cass asked if astronauts can listen to music in space. Mann said yes, adding “it’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m exercising and so we have some connectivity to the internet, but we have to make sure we have good satellite passes during that time so it can be a little bit spotty. But we also have playlists that we made prior to coming to space.”
Daposka student Joseph Duty asked Mann how does she know when she reaches microgravity (weightless) stage. Mann said on a prior mission, “it took us about 8.5 minutes to get to space, there’s two stages of that rocket that take you into space and that first stage is about 2.5 minutes, you feel 0 Gs for about 12 seconds before that second stage kicks in. That second stage accelerates you until 16,400 mph and when it cuts off, you go from 4.5 Gs to 0 Gs instantaneously.”
Daposka student Signy RedCorn asked if astronauts run out of water in space. Mann said “fortunately we have a system on board the space station that reclaims most of the water through our sweat and humidity and also our urine. We’re able to purify all of that and reclaim about 93% of the water.”
Daposka student Makani McGlaston asked how the space station is powered. Mann said the space station has “four huge sets of solar rays that gather (energy) from the sun that powers the space station, they also charge batteries so when we’re in sunlight and we can gather that energy from the sun, we use that to power the station and to charge the batteries so that when we are in an eclipse and we don’t have any sunlight available, then we’ll use the power from the batteries to draw that to power the space station.”
According to NASA, the current space mission is titled Expedition 68 and will “include research investigations focused on biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development, providing the foundation for continuing human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars.”