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20 Questions with the Space Station

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’ve been a freelancer for over 20 years. It’s not quite accurate to say there aren’t benefits. There are; they just don’t include health care and employer-matched IRAs. The benefits are such things as not having to use an alarm clock or wear pants everyday, if you don’t feel like it.

You can.  But you don’t have to.

Last year I was hired by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. In a full-time, pants-required-five-days-a-week position. My official title is Curator of the Daily Planet. This is the Daily Planet:

SECU Daily PlanetIt’s a three-story globe-shaped multimedia theater that bulges out of the Nature Research Center, the new wing of this esteemed institution. And it has a stage, upon which I introduce and interview scientists. It’s sort of a dream gig for me. I am here, presumably, to help make the science more fun and engaging. Which is easy because it’s already totally fun and engaging for me.

One of the great things about the museum is that, over the years, it has cultivated a nice relationship with NASA. So, on February 5, we were honored to participate in an In-flight Education Downlink. That is, we had an auditorium full of local students and some of them got to ask questions of an astronaut while he orbited the Earth aboard the International Space Station.

Our astronaut was, appropriately enough, North Carolina native Tom Marshburn, a physician with a physics background, on his second mission to the ISS.

I hosted the event and was the first person to speak to the station, as part of the “handshake.” I actually got to address the space station – on Mission Control’s cue – and announce who we were and who I was.  Almost as if I were Captain Kirk announcing himself as Captain of the Starship Enterprise to an alien ship.

And, for the first couple questions, before Mission Control instructed Marshburn to mute his microphone in-between questions, we could hear our delayed voices coming back to us through his mic.

It wasn’t until I watched this video that I realized what I was hearing: I was hearing my own voice as it was coming through speakers ON THE SPACE STATION!

So, that’s pretty cool. Probably the closest I’ll get to being on the ISS. And one of the unexpected benefits of my day job.

Watch now, as 20 young students get to ask an astronaut their own questions about life at 17,000 mph. If you had the chance, what would your question be?…

Brian Malow About the Author: Science comedian Brian Malow engages in lively conversation with scientists and writers for his own amusement and yours. Follow on Twitter @sciencecomedian.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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