LEWISTON — Next month, there’ll be a 10-minute window when Maine ham radio operator signals can reach the International Space Station orbiting above.

In that time frame, Lewiston and Auburn eighth-graders have NASA approval to talk to astronauts and ask them questions, according to teachers and Bates College Museum of Art Curator of Education Anthony Shostak.

The exact day of the live chat isn’t yet known. NASA has narrowed the time of the contact to the last week of April and will refine the schedule to the precise time when the space station zips overhead at 17,000 mph.

Photographs of space, the art museum’s exhibit on astrophotography, helped connect local students with astronauts.

Last year the Bates art museum held a “Starstruck” exhibit, which Shostak called the first major art exhibit of photos of space that was cataloged and documented. The exhibit held more than 100 photographs of space, many taken by cameras on telescopes; a few were from NASA.

Shostak’s brother-in-law, Dave Taylor, is an amateur radio operator and member of the Maine chapter of the American Radio Relay League. He saw the space exhibit and told Shostak about NASA’s national call for proposals for radio operators to talk to orbiting astronauts.

“He said, ‘I know you’ve got an exhibition going on, what do you think of this?” The two talked about facilitating local students talking to orbiting astronauts, “but I didn’t think we had a snowball’s chance.” Shostak talked to educators in the Lewiston and Auburn middle schools. They submitted a proposal.

Late last year they found out they secured a ham radio chat time with astronauts. NASA does host some contacts during each mission, but not that many, he said.

Lewiston Middle School science teacher Nicole Goyette said some of her students will be picked to ask questions of astronauts. It’s not known yet which ones. Her students are excited, she said.

They visited the Bates exhibit last year and got calendars from NASA with photographs of space.

The upcoming space chat has gotten my students much more engaged in astronomy, she said. “They see it’s real and happening now.” The space station has six astronauts from different countries. “They change every six months.”

On board the space station in April will be one astronaut from Canada, three from Russia and two from the United States. According to NASA’s website, one of the astronauts will be Christopher Cassidy, a graduate of York (Maine) High School who considers York his hometown.

In class students have learned about what the International Space Station is like, “what it’s like to live there, how different experiments they do affect us personally.”

One example, Goyette said, is the cellphone. Cellphones are not possible without satellites and “all the things they’re doing in space,” the teacher said. She hopes the live chat will get her students more excited about and considering careers in science.

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