Communication Students have an “Out of the World” Experience Interviewing an Astronaut
By Jennifer Nessmith, MSc Global Strategic Communication
Somebody pinch me. It all happened so fast that I think I might be dreaming.
In April, after stopping by Dr. Heidi Edwards’ office to get a form signed, she told me some exciting news. She and Todd Halvorson, senior aerospace reporter with Florida Today, were working on setting up a very long-distance interview for our summer “Writing about Science” class.
“It’s not confirmed yet, but we are working on getting a live interview with one of the astronauts on the International Space Station,” Dr. Edwards said.
I did an inner cartwheel. As a former community news reporter, I knew what a big deal this was. In fact, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
Through a joint project with Florida Today, USA Today and Florida Tech, our class would write a series of articles on how space travel affects the human body. As a bonus, we would talk to an astronaut in orbit.
Seven weeks later, as we boarded the Kennedy Space Center tour bus to depart for the press room for our live ISS downlink with U.S. Astronaut and Navy Commander Chris Cassidy, I told myself to take a deep breath. Don’t be nervous. He’s just a regular guy. You’re just going to be talking to him from VERY far away!
It was, to say the least, an amazing experience. The people at Kennedy Space Center really worked hard to make it memorable. At exactly 10:50 a.m. on May 22, CAPCOM started our communication link. Mike Curie, public affairs director for Kennedy Space Center, answered the initial call. Suddenly, Cmdr. Cassidy appeared on the screen, floating comfortably before us thousands of miles above Earth!
Each of my classmates got in line to ask him a question. We were allotted only 20 minutes, and time is money, so we had to be quick. We all discussed the procedure beforehand: each member of the class would draft two questions. When the interview began, we would line up in an orderly and efficient manner to ask our questions in a rapid-fire format. We would each ask one question, and if time allowed, we would each ask another. I was going last.
My topic, regarding the psychological effects of space travel, raised several questions about how space travelers deal with long-term isolation and confinement. I wanted to ask an all-encompassing question, so I decided on: What’s the best part about being aboard the ISS and what’s the worst part about being aboard the ISS? I felt that any answer Cmdr. Cassidy would give would be uniquely personal. It was, and I enjoyed his answer regarding the best parts of the expedition: “The best thing (about being aboard the ISS) is not the fun things you do, but the people you experience them with,” he said. “The times that we had will be memories in our lives forever. The second best part, of course, is the view.”
Well said, Cmdr. Cassidy. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. The experience was “out of this world!”
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