Astronaut, cosmonaut visit Bellevue's Open Window School

Third-grader Weston Kennedy sat attentively during a recent assembly at Open Window School in Bellevue, listening to astronaut Jim Voss and cosmonaut Anatoli Artsebarsky share about their time spent in outer space.

Astronaut, cosmonaut visit with students

Third-grader Weston Kennedy sat attentively during a recent assembly at Open Window School in Bellevue, listening to astronaut Jim Voss and cosmonaut Anatoli Artsebarsky share about their time spent in outer space.

Along with his schoolmates, Kennedy was drawn into a world of space exploration through stories, photographs and video shared by Voss and Artsebarsky. Spread across the gym floor, the students sat eagerly awaiting question-and-answer time to find out some of life’s most important questions.

“Is there cell-phone reception in space?” Kennedy asked.

Voss chuckled with his reply explaining that they had radios that worked just like a cell phone and a telephone that allowed them to contact friends and family back home roughly 10 minutes of every hour.

A question about using the bathroom in space had the whole gym erupting in laughs.

Although it was a fun experience for the students to come face to face with space travelers, it was also an incredible learning opportunity, exposing them to future possible careers in the science and technology fields. Voss and Artsebarsky took the time to share with the students about space and why studying hard in school pays off. Russian-born Artsebarsky was joined by Yuila Oreknova, an interpreter who volunteered from the University of Washington.

Voss and Artsebarsky flew into Seattle this past week for the annual Association of Space Explorers (ASE) XXI Planetary Congress. The two were joined by more than 70 other astronauts and cosmonauts who spoke to around 50,000 students all across the state of Washington.

“We all enjoy visiting schools because we enjoy sharing the space experiences and we always had the hope that we’ll inspire or motivate a couple of young people,” Voss explained.

Voss was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in June 1987 and traveled into space five times between 1991 and 2001. He was a member of the second crew to live on the International Space Station and served aboard for 163 days. Aboard the ISS, the crew performed various scientific experiments studying the human body to better understand the changes organs undergo in space.

In May of 1991, Artsebarsky, a colonel in the Soviet Air Force, commanded a rocket flight to the Mir space station. While living aboard the Mir, the crew conducted experiments and were joined by researchers from other nations. It was originally planned that both crew members Artsebarsky and Sergei Krikalev would return to earth after six months. However, Krikalev had to remain on Mir for four additional months while the Soviet Union was transformed by the events of August 1991. When Krikalev returned to Earth in March 1992 and was greeted by Artsebarsky, who by then was a colonel for the Russian Air Force.

These days, Artsebarsky tutors children back home in Russia, teaching them about space through stories and pictures.

“Many of the children I meet don’t know who their cosmonauts are and have never met someone who has gone into space,” he said. “I want to bring that to them.”

Both Voss and Artsebarsky are retired from space travel and now keep their feet planted firmly on the ground.

This year’s conference theme was “Exploring Space, Inspiring Planetary Stewardship.” Open Window School students learned about past space flights, current issues and foreseen challenges in future space exploration. The presentation was followed by tour of the school’s high-tech science lab and each class had the opportunity to pose for pictures with the visiting astronaut and cosmonaut. The sixth- and seventh-graders then had the opportunity to sit down face to face with the space travelers to talk about science, technology and the future of space flight.

“I enjoy coming out here and interacting with the kids,” explained Artsebarsky with the help of his interpreter, adding, “Otherwise I wouldn’t have five children.”

Artsebarsky’s eldest son, 29, is currently a test pilot.

After lunch, the visit from Voss and Artsebarsky concluded and the students at Open Window School shuffled back to their classrooms knowing that if they studied hard enough, they too could shoot for the moon.

“It was such an interesting experience and I will enjoy it for the rest of my life,” said sixth-grader Andrew Caplan, grinning from ear to ear.