Trinidad and Tobago created history yesterday as Sixth-Form students from the Caribbean were the first people in the region to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in real time.
The historic event was part of the National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology’s (NIHERST) Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), which took place at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) St Augustine campus.
The forum, which was in its tenth year, was a regional event which brought together over 200 Sixth-Form science students from the Caribbean for one week, at the UWI’s St Augustine Campus, The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and NIHERST.
The link was made from Trinidad to a space station in Argentina, which was moderated by the Canadian Space Agency at 11.10 am. The link-up lasted approximately 15 minutes. The ISS link was made possible through the visit of Trinidadian-born aerospace engineer, Camille Wardrop-Alleyne, who is based at the NASA-Johnson Space in Houston, Texas, USA. Assisted by the Trinidad and Tobago Amateur Radio League (TTARL), the students asked a range of questions related to space exploration and also, the activities of the ISS and the astronaut’s personal experience of being in space.
When asked by a student what were some of the physical issues astronauts encounter on the ISS, one astronaut responded that most felt “a heavy weight on their chest”. As such, most people on the ISS do physical exercise for up to two hours a day to remain in optimum health. The astronaut also said radiation exposure was another issue which affected those on the station.
“It is 100 times stronger than on earth, but we are not directly exposed to it. Even if we do, the threat of getting cancer is not much more than on earth,” an astronaut said.
Having insomnia and readjusting to earth’s gravity were two of the main issues astronauts deal with when coming back to earth. However, they assured the issues disappeared after one week.
When asked if there could possibly be life forms on other planets, another astronaut said it was a possibility, “and we may discover it in the future, although it may not be in our lifetime.”
The astronauts also indicated there was a one-percent change of accidents aboard the ISS, “but we are willing to take that risk, if it makes life on earth safer.”
They also said debris from space can be harmful to marine life when dumped. However, the astronauts made efforts to minimise the dumping of debris.
“One of the most life changing experiences in seeing earth was realising how beautiful the earth is, and that we need to protect our planet,” an astronaut said.
There are scientists, doctors, and other researchers aboard the ISS from countries throughout the world. It was launched in 1998, and two years later it was first inhabited by humans. It is as large as a football field and is expected to be expanded by 2020. It is located 300 kilometres above the earth and flies at a rate of 30,000 kilometres per hour.