Class of '95 astronaut chats with children from space station

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
In a once in a lifetime experience, children of Class of '95 Air Force Academy graduates got the opportunity to video chat Sept. 9 with Class of '95 grad and astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who is on a five-month mission aboard the International Space Station.

The graduates and their families visited the Academy to celebrate their 20-year reunion and coordinated with NASA to speak with Lindgren via video teleconference.

In addition to speaking with Lindgren, the grads conducted a spirit mission by placing letters on the Academy terrazzo which could be seen from the space station. 

"(The spirit mission) was awesome - that was so much fun to see the message," Lindgren said during the video teleconference. "I know how much work so many of our classmates and cadets put into that, getting up really early. I think everyone here enjoyed looking down at the Earth and seeing this message that was for us. We really appreciate you doing that."

Lindgren was selected in June 2009 as one of 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class. Following two years of training and evaluation, he was assigned technical duties in the Spacecraft Communicator branch and Extravehicular Activity branch. Lindgren served as lead CAPCOM for ISS Expedition 30.

Due to limited time, 14 of the 26 children were able to ask questions ranging from astronaut training to new perspectives of life on earth.

Ashlynn asked how Lindgren prepared for living and handling emergencies in zero gravity.

"I spent two-and-a-half years when I first started at NASA just doing training on how to be an astronaut," Lindgren said. "After those two years, we were eligible to be assigned to a mission. Once I got assigned to this mission, I spent another two-and-a-half years training, so during that time we spent a lot of time studying books, spending time in the simulator, a lot of time traveling to our partner nations."

For many years, NASA experimented with growing vegetables at the space station in a space garden. Adam wanted to know how space lettuce tastes and if the astronauts were growing anything else.

"It was a lot of fun getting to grow that lettuce because not only are we growing food that we get to eat up here, but I think just the act of having to nurture and water these plants every day is psychologically beneficial," Lindgren said. "It was a lot of fun for me to check on the plants every day and see how they were doing. The lettuce tasted really good. Right now, unfortunately, we're not growing anything else."

The astronauts have their own crew quarters on the station which provides them with personal space and a place to sleep. Anna asked if Lindgren floated or if he tied himself down while he slept.

"It kind of depends on the person and how they like to sleep," Lindgren said. "So we just crawl into our sleeping bags and zip it up. Some people like to tie (themselves) to the wall so they feel more like they are sleeping in a bed. I like to sleep floating. I find that very comfortable."

The station flies about 230 miles above the Earth and is constantly orbiting the planet. Lindgren said it looks like a very bright star from Earth and people can see the station in orbit.

Ben wanted to know what the coolest thing Lindgren has seen from the space station.

"You know, there are so many cool things to see when you are looking out the window, but the coolest thing I've seen is the Aurora (Borealis)," Lindgren said. "I only got to see it once while on earth, but up here we get to see it looking down and it's just beautiful. It's neon-green and purple like a snake slithering on the atmosphere."

The question about life on other planets was on Deuce's mind when he asked if Lindgren had met any new friends or extra-terrestrials.

"Up here we get to make new friends," Lindgren said. "There are three Russians in the Russian segment of the space station, and we just had astronauts from Kazakhstan and Denmark come to visit," Lindgren said. "And of course, my crew mates on the U.S. side of the space station. We get to make a lot of friends, but I have not made friends with any extra-terrestrials yet."

After years of training and preparing for ISS Expedition 30, Shannon wanted to know how being on the ISS changed Lindgren's view of life on earth.

"You know, for me this has been a dream come true," Lindgren said. "When you look down at the earth you don't see borders, you don't see labels on each country, it really gives you a perspective that this is one big spaceship, one big blue and white spaceship and we need to be working together and protecting and preserving this 'spaceship' we're living on."

Nearing the time limit for questions, Lindgren wrapped up the video teleconference.

"Thank you again for letting me crash the class meeting," he said. "I really wish I could be there with you all to celebrate our 20th reunion, but I guess this is a pretty good excuse to miss it. I hope you guys have a terrific weekend."