Astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet on the International Space Station will answer prerecorded questions from 10 Brownsville Independent School District high school seniors via NASA downlink in an exchange to be broadcast worldwide Tuesday morning on NASA TV.

The event is the result of collaboration among the South Texas Astronomical Society, or STARS, the Children’s Museum of Brownsville and the Brownsville Independent School District. The astronauts, Kimbrough from NASA and Pesquet from the European Space Agency, will answer questions from students at all six BISD early college high schools from 9:15 to 9:35 a.m. local time.

The exchange will stream live on NASA TV and can be viewed on KBSD TV or via the NASA smart phone app, said Victor De Los Santos of STARS. He said the three groups submitted a grant proposal to NASA as the Brownsville Science Center, an entity still in the planning stages. The science center got the word NASA had accepted in early April.

12th grader Brianna Martinez explains what being chosen to ask questions for NASA astronauts on the ISS April 29 at Hanna Early College High School. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

The groups are holding a live event starting at 9 a.m. in BISD’s Central Administration Building auditorium, 765 Palm Blvd. Local dignitaries including Mario Diaz, who heads the physics department and astronomy studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, will speak. The event comes days after the successful launch and landing Wednesday of Starship SN-15 from the SpaceX launch site at Boca Chica Beach and word that SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s foundation will visit the city in coming days to discuss how the $10 million Musk is giving to the city will be used.

The 10 students whose questions the astronauts will answer from the ISS were chosen from senior astronomy classes at the six high schools. After recording their questions two weeks ago at Hanna, Brianna Martinez and Jenna Otero said the whole thing makes them feel a little bit like Brownsville is emerging as “Space City USA.”

“It’s going to be fun for them to answer us and to know what they say,” Martinez said. “This puts our city on the map for something besides immigration and poverty.”

Martinez, Otero and Magali Osowski were chosen for being the top three point-getters on a website called “Slooh,” which features electronic telescopes and takes a “deep dive into space,” Otero said. Osowski, who was the top vote-getter on the site, said she felt honored to be chosen to query the astronauts.

Others asking questions include Armando Cantu from Lopez, Vanessa Garcia and Emmanuel Lerma from Pace, Ivan Garcia and Marianna Patterson from Veterans Memorial, and Lizzet Felix and Ruben Maldonado from Rivera.

12th grader Jenna Otero points to some of the celestial objects she’s found through challenges on website “Slooh” for her astronomy class April 29 at Hanna Early College High School. Otero, alongside her three classmates, was chosen to ask the astronauts questions as they were the top three point-getters on the website which uses electronic telescopes for students to explore space. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Felipe Pena III, executive director of the Children’s Museum, said the three groups decided to submit the grant proposal as the Brownsville Science Center even though that entity is still a work in progress. He said the three organizations are spearheading the effort to start the science center.

On Tuesday, they’re planning to stage a production at the CAB auditorium within the confines of COVID-19 precautions.

“There’s so much excitement around SpaceX. The astronauts flew (to the ISS) on a SpaceX rocket,” he said. “This is all perfect timing. Kids can dream and envision being able to talk to people in space … and maybe this will spark a life goal in someone to be an astronaut or a space engineer.”

Greg Garcia, grants specialist with BISD, said KBSD will be able to do a trial run of Tuesday’s event during a NASA TV downlink at 4 p.m. Monday of the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft’s departure from Asteroid Bennu.

He said an event like the NASA downlink harkens back to “Star Trek” in the 1960s and “points to our mission to prepare students in the STEM fields for a variety of careers, expose them to NASA-related careers like engineering and the need for things like accountants, welders, technicians and even a security force” to put it all together.

STARS is a group started by retired BISD educator Carol Lutsinger in the 1990s for students interested in astronomy. The group restarted a few years ago when the Christina V. Torres Memorial Observatory opened at Resaca de la Palma State Park in Olmito to house UTRGV’s high-powered telescope. A STARS blog on its website lists a mission to explore topics of astronomy and space exploration and share them with the community.


glong@brownsvilleherald.com