Only have a minute? Listen instead
NASA astronauts Jasmin Moghbeli and Frank Rubio will answer pre-recorded questions from Brownsville Independent School District students via live downlink Wednesday morning from the International Space Station.
The downlink from the ISS will last 20 minutes and will be streamed live on NASA Television, NASA LIVE, and the NASA smartphone app. The downlink is part of a larger event to be hosted by the South Texas Astronomical Society, or STARS, and Brownsville ISD.
The event starts at 9 a.m. Wednesday and the link to the livestream will be posted on the STARS website at https://starsocietyrgv.org/downlink/
The event physically will take place at Pace Early College High School, but there is limited seating. Organizers are urging the public to livestream the event.
“What we really want to do is put space into these students’ reach and for them to know that its possible for them to be there, too,” STARS co-founder and executive director Victor De Los Santos said.
During the downlink, Rubio and Moghbeli “are actually going to be talking to students and that’s a very life-changing experience, to see yourself and to ask a question to an astronaut and have them answer it, and not just any astronaut but an astronaut floating around in the space station,” De Los Santos said.
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 the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s high powered telescope.
The STARS website lists a mission to “ignite curiosity through space science education, outreach programs, and by developing pathways to STEM,” or science, technology, engineering and math, and a vision “to cultivate the natural human desire for exploration and discovery by fostering connections to space and science across the Rio Grande Valley.”
De Los Santos said Wednesday’s event reflects a desire to meet both objectives.
From an experience standpoint, Moghbeli and Rubio come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Rubio has been on the International Space Station since September 2022, giving him the record for the longest mission to the ISS. The record came about because a malfunction on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft put it out of service to bring Rubio back, De Los Santos said,
“And then Jasmin Moghbeli is at the other end of the spectrum. This is her very first space flight, and she just got to the space station a few days ago on the SpaceX Crew 7 flight. This is going to be her very first in-flight education downlink,” he said.
This will be the second NASA downlink from the ISS that STARS and BISD have hosted. The first was in May 2021.
Twelve students will ask questions, five of them from Pace, a couple from middle schools and four from the elementary grades.
“We want to record more of the students’ reaction this time. It was kind of a surreal moment to see. I think one of the questions was what do you do in your free time and they had a football right behind them just floating around instead of falling to the ground … you’ll never see something like that again,” De Los Santos said.
Here’s a sampling of the questions BISD students will ask:
“Does microgravity affect your perception of time?” Victor, an elementary student, wants to know.
“Do you think that animals will ever be able to cohabitate along-side humans in space?” middle school student Mia Paola asks.
“How would you explain the International Space Station’s protection from radiation to a 5th grader?” Santiago, a high school student, is set to ask.
Featured speakers at the in-person event at Pace include Col. Michael Fossum, a former NASA astronaut now serving as Chief Operating Officer of Texas A&M University at Galveston, and Emmanuel Alex Zamora, an Intra-Vehicular Activity (IVA) Operations Flight Controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Fossum grew up in McAllen, and Zamora in Brownsville. Both will share personal insights into experiences that shaped their journeys of discovery and excellence within NASA, De Los Santos said.
“These two speakers are from the Rio Grande Valley. They are products of the Valley, and they are both very accomplished with NASA. I wanted to put these two men in front of the students to show them that it is possible to get there if you’re from the Valley, it doesn’t matter what anybody tells you.”
The South Texas Astronomical Society “right now has about 50 people that we’re calling ‘members,’ but we don’t have a great membership structure,” De Los Santos said, noting that unlike some astronomical groups farther north, STARS has no membership fees.
“We prioritize accessibility. We are open and accessible to anybody who is interested in space science,” he said.
“What we are really figuring out is that there is a need for this; there is a need for STEM education. I think we’re doing a good job with what we’re doing. The problem is we’ve only had one small grant from NASA, and we don’t have a physical location. We go wherever people will take us, so we are working toward fundraising so that we could be able to expand what we have and provide it for more people and reach more citizens here and more children,” he said.